James C. Scott at Cato Unbound


Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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22 Responses

  1. Avatar John Carney says:

    This is fantastic. I’m really glad to see that others are clued into the importance of Seeing Like A State. Where can I get a copy of the monograph?Report

  2. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    Seeing Like a State is where it’s at. I’d note, perhaps unnecessarily, that the subtitle is “How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed,” not “Why Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Fail.”Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Michael Drew says:

      @Michael Drew,

      I understand Prof. Scott to be an anarchist. Presumably “certain schemes” refers to “above all, the government ones.” Report

    • Avatar Simon K in reply to Michael Drew says:

      @Michael Drew, I agree the book is excellent. My interpretation was that its extremely hard for government schemes to improve the human condition to succeed, but I don’t think the critique is limited to government. Many private sector schemes are doomed due to the same problem – the extreme difficulty for high level actors to understand detailed, local conditions.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Simon K says:

        @Simon K, cue up, What have the Romans every done for us sketch.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Simon K says:

        @Simon K,

        Where I’d twist the libertarian knife — which I know Scott wouldn’t do — is to say that under a proper, non-corrupted system of laws, when a corporation gets so big that it starts seeing like a state, it will tend to be out-competed by smaller corporations.

        Governments of course don’t have that sort of competition, which is why things are a lot more difficult for them.

        And yes, I realize that “a proper, non-corrupted system of laws” is doing a lot of work here. It’s an enormous problem to keep the state from working to the advantage of one corporation or another.Report

        • Avatar JosephFM in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          @Jason Kuznicki,
          I cannot imagine any set of laws which would lead to that scenario.
          Which is to say, that no, under any system with corporations, some would get that large in the first place because they are fundamentally more efficient than dozens of smaller companies doing the same thing.Report

            • Avatar JosephFM in reply to Jaybird says:

              @Jaybird, Yeah, Jay,. I am seriously rolling my eyes at you right now.

              No, obviously not like GM. Like, I dunno, Apple. Yes, they wouldn’t exist without state intervention either in the form of good colleges, but…Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

              @JosephFM, I was just thinking of a counter-example.

              That’s certainly a large company (that should have been out-competed by other, smaller companies!) that surfed a wave of laws to…

              Well, I don’t want to call it “success”…Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jaybird says:


              It seems clear to me there is a continuum from particular to general in government scale-tipping. Forking cash over to a single company directly is about as clear a case of favoritism as you can find. Establishing a copyright regime favorable to a wide class of corporations but not to others is somewhere in the middle. Establishing a public education system that subsidizes college education seems on the far end of generality to me, making favoritism a weak argument against such a system.Report

            • Avatar JosephFM in reply to Jaybird says:

              But that wasn’t the argument I was making. I was arguing that we’d still have at least some really big companies even absent specific government favoritism, not that there aren’t obvious cases of large companies that wouldn’t exist and couldn’t compete without it. Obviously there are. I’m just arguing that GMs are not the rule.

              Though Jason’s point on copyright is well-taken. That’s a big distortion on the market too, obviously.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to JosephFM says:


            Companies routinely rotate out of the Fortune 500. Perhaps some of them are responding to difficulties of the type Scott identifies.

            The theory of the firm and of firm size is complex, and Scott might just be offering a new twist on it. I’m not entirely sure. But it would be interesting to see what he makes of the literature in that area.Report

        • Avatar sam in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          @Jason Kuznicki, “It’s an enormous problem to keep the state from working to the advantage of one corporation or another.”

          Ya think?Report

        • @Jason Kuznicki,
          It’s doing a lot of work, but it’s possible with diligence and the sense of urgency that freedom and economic survival demand — it’s not as if we have other choices — the system we have will destroy the country, or create one that the majority is not going to like, as it becomes more and more powerful and destructive.Report

  3. With Scott’s discussion of local road-naming practices, I’m reminded of all my friend from Belfast has told me about Catholic place names and Protestant place names in his hometown, how naming acts as both shibboleth of the oppressed and tool of the oppressor.Report

  4. Avatar Will says:

    Whoa. That essay blew my mind.Report