Arnold, You omitted your blogs (EconLib, AskBlog, In My Tribe), which have been a steady source of clarity, insight, and good judgment for decades. In moments of sharp, disorienting disequilibrium -- the financial crisis, the pandemic, polarization -- you have been a reliably incisive public intellectual. Do you move the needle in public discourse? I don't know. What is certain is that you model epistemic virtue, to good effect among your readers.

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Arnold, I really liked this. Keep it up. Cheers, Steve.

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The seen and unseen aspect of intellectual and business endeavors is a puzzle. I am grateful for the ideas, suggestions, observations and stand points you provide. You are known, an intellectual brand - even in Germany - I am writing from the capital Berlin. For social change Cobden's and his fellow Manchester capitalists' way might be an inspiration, i.e. take it to the streets.

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A comment and a question. (I hope, Arnold, that you will find the question compelling and respond.)

First a somewhat random comment: Arnold wrote: "In principle, a digital property database could eliminate the title insurance industry. In practice, the title industry’s grip on Congress is too strong." Blockchain technology would be nearly ideal for establishing and verifying a digital property base. In fact, more than one country (outside the U.S.) has begun using blockchain as a mechanism for maintaining property deeds. I say "nearly ideal" because blockchain's safety and security has yet to be perfected, witness the recent theft of a couple billion dollars worth of digital coins.

And a random question: What does "social change" mean in a world that operates via PSST? Aren't we all - even think tank denizens and public servants - merely atomized agents, each trying to optimize his or her respective utility. In such a world, what does it mean to influence many people for the better?

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I was delighted to see the Smith-Watney interview not because I think they'll get any policy passed, but simply because it is important to have pro-progress Democratic voices out there sympathetic to issues like YIMBY and reducing occupational licensing. Insofar as pro-market economists and libertarians have been making these points for decades, it signals progress in the Zeitgeist to have respected a respected Democratic economist like Smith interviewing Watney. This is especially the case insofar as academic economics is headed towards sociology, per your analysis.

I emphatically agree that entrepreneurial initiatives are much more likely to result in change (thus my focus on entrepreneurial solutions to world problems). But we are more likely to succeed in doing so on the most important issues if the domains in which we are working are regarded as intellectually credible. You did not mention your focus on competitive governance, a theme you used to write on with some regularity. But Romer's public advocacy of charter cities was a game changer for a movement that had been around for decades. Milton Friedman had been proposing the creation of Hong Kong like islands of economic freedom years before; I know a Mexican banker who had been flying around Mexico with Friedman looking for sites in the 1990s. Libertarian enclaves had been attempted back in the 1970s. But Romer as a mainstream figure brought the need for and possibility of jurisdictions with better institutions to mainstream attention. Despite challenges, including the recent leftist president in Honduras, there is now a vibrant global movement in the creation of new jurisdictions. The Catawba financial zone announcement is but one of many in the works. Did your writing on competitive governance play a huge role in this? No, but many of us in the movement have shared your thoughts with each other as a complementary lens for understanding the movement and its rationale. I prefer to focus on the idea of "competitive governance" over the specific proposals of how to structure new jurisdictions because the most important feature is competition among governing structures. We don't know which set of specific features will work when and where.

Bitcoin was born after decades of debate and discussion on digital currencies, with figures such as Nick Szabo having a deep understanding of classical liberal principles in currency and beyond. I see the rise of new jurisdictions as the similar result of decades of debate and discussion, false starts, and then finally successes.

Note that while both of these movements have intellectual underpinnings, their founding ideas flourished neither in academia nor policy circles. Thus I would make the case that intellectual work is important for some entrepreneurial initiatives, but that expecting recognition in academia and policy is the wrong mental model for understanding the impact of ideas (despite the fact that that is the mainstream mental model and identity of most people who think for a living).

I'm much more interested in tracking the thoughts of Balaji Srinivasan, Marc Andreesen, Paul Graham, Naval Ravikant, Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, Vitalik Buterin, and dozens of other influential idea-oriented tech leaders, many working quietly behind the scenes, than I am in whatever is happening in think tanks or academia. At the same time, other than Thiel they mostly want to stay within the Overton window of respected conversation with people like Noah Smith. While your Fantasy Intellectual Team concept is not likely to manifest in the manner you desire, you are pointing to a credible, respected collection of thinkers who are complementary to the tech leaders I mentioned - they can help keep the Overton window of "ideas which may be discussed" open in ways that is mostly not happening in academia and think tank circles. Your selection mostly identified people I was already following, with a handful of new ones.

Insofar as one expects better ideas to win in academia or policy, I imagine it is immensely frustrating to be a thoughtful person with intellectual integrity articulating ideas in such a world. But insofar as one's mental model is that academia and policy are mostly sideshows to real change, which happens through entrepreneurial action, and the most transformative entrepreneurial actions require an intellectual foundation, then one can be far more optimistic.

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I agree with Stephen Brooks. Great piece. Have enjoyed your writing since the days of AIMST. Bill

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