Links to Consider, 11/1
Don Boudreaux responds to Matt Gelfand; Matt Shapiro on Tyler Cowen on the New Right; Polarization Doom Loop Alert; Randolph Nesse on mental disorders
I’ll argue that Mr. Gelfand, like many others, mistakenly assumes that the market and government are symmetrical to each other in a way that they are not.
Of course, any desired outcome can, in principle, be pursued either with voluntary action (the market, broadly conceived) or with coercive action (government). In this simple way the market and government are indeed symmetrical to each other. But there the symmetry ends. The logic of the market’s operation differs categorically from the logic of government’s operation. These differences are rooted in, but extend beyond, the fact that only in markets is all action voluntary.
My friend Matt Gelfand had left a comment on one of my posts, prompting my friend Don Boudreaux to write his essay.
I believe that, in the collapse of institutional trust, there are three guiding lights that people are using to identify valuable information that they can use to inform good policy. People are building trust by identifying individuals who can demonstrate a deep knowledge of a given topic, who demonstrate some level of genuine empathy for them and their concerns, and who have some form of credential that highlights their previous successes or accomplishments.
I believe the New Right is looking for a fourth guiding principle that has been largely abandoned by the left: the willingness and courage to meaningfully dissent from popular wisdom.
I believe that what the New Right should be looking for is: (drumroll) the network-based university!
The Washington Examiner reports,
Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton claimed Republicans are out to steal the 2024 presidential election in a video posted to Twitter.
“I know we’re all focused on the 2022 midterm elections, and they are incredibly important, but we also have to look ahead because, you know what, our opponents certainly are,” Clinton said in the video. “Right-wing extremists already have a plan to literally steal the next presidential election, and they’re not making a secret of it.”
From the mouth of the woman who coined the expression “vast right-wing conspiracy” during her husband’s Administration.
Suppose we are in a situation where each party’s activists view the other party as a ruthless conspiracy. The activists will want to pressure their party leaders to be just as ruthless as they think their opponents are. You get a classic self-reinforcing doom loop that leads to conflict.
I may already have quoted this from Robert Wright:
The runup to World War I was propelled by the belief of various nations that military preparations made by their adversaries for defensive purposes were offensive in intent—a misperception that led to counter-preparations that were in turn misperceived by the other side as offensive, leading the other side to make counter-preparations that… and so on.
Or ask Americans in “red” or “blue” territory. On both sides you’ll find some people who characterize people on the other side as driven by something close to unalloyed evil. Yet if you ask the allegedly evil people to explain the views that motivate them, you’ll often get a more mundane explanation that sounds pretty plausible.
What frustrates me about Jonathan Rauch is that on this issue he echoes Hillary Clinton rather than Robert Wright. Rauch shows no appreciation for the dynamics of partisan rhetoric. He just thinks that the problem is the GOP.
Once you have both sides playing the “stolen election” card, then any hope for government playing a stabilizing, conflict-reducing role goes out the window. It remains big and intrusive, but with ever-increasing clumsiness and incompetence.
Rob Henderson points to a 2019 article by Randolph Nesse, who wrote,
Many human traits are subject to catastrophic failure. Babies with larger brains and heads have advantages, but in environments without obstetric surgery, just one centimeter too large is fatal for both mother and baby. High uric acid levels protect against aging, but just a bit too high causes gout. Competition between hosts and pathogens is especially likely to create steep cliffs. Since the price of not being able to defend against an infection is death, the immune system is shaped to such a level of aggressiveness that it sometimes attacks normal tissues. The consequence can be rheumatic fever, OCD, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and other disorders.
Suppose we measure a trait on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is the point where you have a debilitating mental disorder. If the optimum fitness value for that trait is 5, then high values of the trait will have long ago disappeared from the gene pool But if the optimum fitness value is 9, then some 10’s will appear in every generation.
"... only in markets is all action voluntary."
Oh, puhleeze! What property rights are and how they can be transferred are constrained by government coercion. Some would say they are defined by government. People are no more free to do whatever they want in a market than football players are free to do whatever they want on the football field. This is what the whole field of law and economics is about.
Of course, within "the rules of the game" there is considerable freedom, a great area of voluntariness, but in general people are not free to decide what those rules are, any more than football players can decide what the rules of football are.
Re: "Of course, any desired outcome can, in principle, be pursued either with voluntary action (the market, broadly conceived) or with coercive action (government). [...] The logic of the market’s operation differs categorically from the logic of government’s operation. These differences are rooted in, but extend beyond, the fact that only in markets is all action voluntary." -- Don Boudreaux
I am persuaded by Arnold Kling's dictum, "Markets fail, use markets." I acknowledge a large kernel of truth in Don Boudreaux's contrast between government coercion and voluntary action in markets.
However, there is a complication: the firm (and, more broadly, the private org). In practice, there is much "command and control" and/or "tyranny of the majority" (or tyranny of the minority!) within private orgs.
True, orgs might have "internal labor markets." But exit options often are elusive. And voice options are skewed. Indeed, people often feel stuck in lousy jobs, or with bad bosses; and fear the employer/firm more than government.
Orgs fail, use orgs.
PS: Re: consumer markets. Michael Munger highlights that crucial exchanges sometimes are less than voluntary, insofar as a participant doesn't have any decent alternative to the exchange. But he also argues that less-than-voluntary exchange can be better than no exchange. See the brief outline of his view, "What Does Voluntary Actually Mean?":