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Competitive Government World

March 26, 2011

I suspect that one of the secrets to doing something big is not to attempt to move the levers of history by yourself.  Instead, jump onto an existing trend, where powerful historical forces are pushing somewhat in the direction you want, and help shape them.  This is the case for competitive government, where the coming bankruptcy (literally) of 20th century government, the trends towards more experimentation (try lots, fail fast for tech startups, self-experimentation on health & happiness for individuals), the commoditization of sovereignty, and our increasingly mobile & interconnected world, each help push the government industry towards being more competitive.

For example, at last week’s Economist event “The Ideas Economy: Innovation for a Disruptive World”, I spoke about seasteading to an audience of entrepreneurs, non-profit leaders, government representatives, and academics all interested in innovation.  Afterwards, by a show of hands, the audience voted about two to one in favor of “That sounds cool, we should try it”, over “This guy is just crazy.”  The previous day, Intuit CEO Scott Cook spoke about the importance of experimenting inside Intuit, and touched on some very competitive-government like themes, contrasting the old style of management where “the boss votes with his opinion” to the new style of running experiments where “customers vote with their feet”.  He also characterized these as ideas winning by “politics & powerpoint” vs. “enabling ideas to prove themselves”.

But he didn’t stop there – at his presentation’s close, he described the Special Economic Zone of Shenzhen as China running an experiment, just like a company would – and learning that capitalism works.  If only there was a way to create many such experiments around the world…or as I said in my talk, to have the galvanizing competitive effect of a “Sputnik Moment” happen every day, instead of once a generation.

And this week’s issue of The Economist, the one-page article Taming Leviathan says:

In the 1990s much was made of the idea that capitalism had got so footloose that states were bound to get slimmer to compete for corporate favours.  In fact companies proved more loyal than expected – and the state went on one last splurge.  But talent and capital are getting more mobile; and the demographic pressure of those ageing populations is mounting.  The ever larger state cannot go on for ever.  It will stop.

And finally, this weekend was the first Agora I/O Agorist UnConference, a cool idea to have a virtual conference where all talks are by videoconference.  Lowers the barrier to entry to participating for sure.  Below is my talk, based on my Mises Brazil Structural Libertarianism talk from last year, with some additional thoughts on frontierism vs. agorism.

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One Comment
  1. April 6, 2011 12:03 am

    I couldn’t find your video at the Economist page. Looking at the titles, a lot of the videos I did see there looked pretty lame and buzzword reliant.

    Minor quibbles:
    You say the Constitution was a complete failure, but then later point out how successful the American experiment was. It took pretty long time for the constraints of the constitution to be whittled away, so one lacking in ambition could be content to just turn the clock back a few centuries and enjoy the temporary freedom that brings.

    I would have thought of operating systems as being nearly the opposite in terms of barriers to entry, since Linus Torvalds was able to create Linux on an amateur basis. Lots of geeks do use linux (I do at work), but normal people find it harder to use. This would seem to fall under the Tim Lee critique of seasteading.

    “Rhetoric & Appeals” is what Albert O. Hirschman called “Voice”. I have a similarly low regard for it.

    I was talking to John Mearsheimer recently (who as a realist I.R theorist seems to have a rather shallow theory of politics) and mentioned the war on drugs, contrasted with bog-standard “national security” commitments, as an entrenched but awful set of policies whose beneficiaries I really can’t see. You mentioned the Navy going around the world to interfere on that basis, but not for some other more horrible stuff. Why do you think that is? You mentioned U.S sovereignty, but Columbia doesn’t directly export to the U.S, it generally goes through Mexico (it previously went through the Caribbean before the D.E.A shut down those small-timers).

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