Liberal Democracy is Viable, But Can We Do Better?

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  1. Avatar George Turner
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    People do vote with their feet, and maps of immigration and emigration between cities are quite stunning in the apparent rejection of liberalism (the flow is outward from California cities, the Northeast, Chicago and Detroit and toward Texas and other conservative states).

    However, feet voters are a class of citizens who can most easily take advantage of mobility. Farmers, for example, can only exercise such a vote with extreme difficulty. Depending entirely on mobility as voting automatically turns the less-mobile citizens into a disenfranchised underclass.Report

    • Avatar Roger in reply to George Turner
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      Thus the advantages of making exit rights easier.

      A key concept in evolutionary systems is Path Dependency. Our cultural past comes from ten thousand years of civilization where the primary source of livelihood came from land. Democracy was built upon these institutional paradigms. Exit required leaving that land and going to another.

      Now that exit can be virtual ( some of us spend hours a day playing first person shooters in virtual meeting rooms) how long will it be before we demand virtual exit rights? The paradigms are about ready to shift, and history reveals that where technology changes. Institutions change too, though with a long lag.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to George Turner
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      George,

      I agree that mobility is one of the stickiest points. I don’t think it’s as sticky as some other people do, because historically we’ve seen poor people emigrate, whether it’s Central American emigrating north to the U.S., southern blacks emigrating to the North, etc. Much of that is dependent on family networks. The extended family chips in so “Joe” can go, then Joe gets a foothold and sends money back to help others come.

      So it’s not an insurmountable problem. But I won’t argue against the claim that it is a problem to some degree.Report

      • Avatar George Turner in reply to James Hanley
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        The poor are actually quite mobile because they usually don’t have to abandon fixed assets. People who own real-estate or businesses whose full value can’t easily be recovered are the ones who get stuck, having to weigh taking a major loss in moving (often including intangibles such as the improvements to the farm built by parents and grandparents) against the smaller but constant losses of living under a local government intent on draining them dry. And some firms can’t move because they’re tied to local resources (minerals, timber, seaports, etc).

        In essence, the system rewards free-agents at the expense of second-stringers and local vendors.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to George Turner
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          George, I hear what you’re saying, but on another recent post there was discussion of the elite and how easy it is for them to move. And we see businesses moving all the time. Perhaps the ones for whom it is toughest are those in the middle; those with immobile physical capital, but without great wealth.

          But I think some of what you’re talking about will be corrected by the political market. The value of those assets will diminish, which means fewer people will be willing to move in. The city will need to adapt to thrive.

          And let’s note that just because a city could be run as a wholly privately owned corporation, it’s not necessary that it be, and many surely wouldn’t be. There’d be absolutely nothing to prohibit these cities from allowing their residents to exercise voice and to have a vote on many–perhaps most–issues. If those cities attracted the most immigration and development, that’s the model many other cities would follow in response. The hard core authoritarian city is not likely to attract many people, but if that’s what they choose, well, that’s their choice.

          It’s worth noting that one of the features of this model is that it doesn’t try to determine what the ideal polity is like, but lets people choose those polities that are to their liking.Report

  2. Avatar Roger
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    says:

    Obviously I greatly agree, as it closely aligns with my post on exit rights. A more liberal democracy would have more choice, more options, more freedom and more institutional competition than a less liberal democracy. It would create more winners and less losers. More opportunity for “we” without the drawbacks of “us/them.”

    Nice job James.Report

  3. Avatar Liberty60
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    The idea of cities as markets courting consumers raises interesting questions.

    What is this “product” that cities offer? What do tax-generating businesses look for in a city? And how do cities go about creating those things?

    If a city is structured to behave like a business, it seems reasonable that this points towards the city taking an assertive, muscular role. For example, why leave something like education to the mere whims of the marketplace, when the city has positioned itself as a brand leader in skilled employment?Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Liberty60
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      One of the things I have found is that a lot of people who want the government to get out of this or that are more fond of government at the local level. Which is to say, very few people I know (even among conservatives) think that there shouldn’t be an education policy, at least at a local level. Whether it relies on schools being run by the government or run on a voucher system is situational (how well is the government doing at running the schools?) or a matter of perspective (can we recruit better if we don’t tie people to our schools and instead offer them choice?).Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Will Truman
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        Exactly. If you can understand why you wouldn’t want (other country) telling us what our policy on (whatever) should be… if you can understand why you don’t think that we should tell other country what their policy on (whatever) ought to be… it shouldn’t be *THAT* big of a leap to think about whether Branson should be making decisions for San Francisco. Or San Francisco for Branson.Report

        • Avatar James Vonder Haar in reply to Jaybird
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          Given that Branson’s intransigence has been at its strongest when it comes to denying minority rights, is it any wonder that the strongest proponents of equality tend to be skeptical of federalism?Report

    • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Liberty60
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      says:

      There is indeed a marketplace for eduction at the jurisdictional level; it’s one of the primary reasons why suburbs continue to exist.Report

  4. Avatar Liberty60
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    This idea about the resentment of losers seemsIMO to miss one of the central concepts of what it means to be a society.

    You note the importance of losing gracefully, then go on to propose a world in which no one ever needs to. That is, world that is premised on “You can always take your ball and go home”.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Liberty60
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      I think the theme is that while it’s important to lose gracefully, a lot of people aren’t going to. For laws to work, you need the consent of the governed. Maybe they should provide consent regardless of what they think of the laws (I’m not sure we should say that, civil disobedience has its place, doesn’t it?), but whether we think so or not, it’s often not going to happen.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Liberty60
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      This idea about the resentment of losers seemsIMO to miss one of the central concepts of what it means to be a society.

      And I think your belief that coerced society is superior to voluntary society is wicked, one of the most evilly authoritarian ideas I’ve seen seriously proposed here at the League.Report

      • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        I understand that; the only quibble I would have is with this comment is the assertion that there is some binary choice between coercion and voluntary;

        I would assert that while voluntary is a good thing, there is a legitimate place for accepting the will of the majority, even if that acceptance is coerced. And in the same breath, that there is a legitimate place for disobedience, all depending on a wealth of factors.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Liberty60
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          Can one truly “accept” that which is coerced?

          And truly, I’m still stuck in your prior claim that a coerced outcome might not just sometimes be necessary, but actually superior to the same outcome arrived at voluntarily. That is, you advanced coercion from an unfortunate necessity into something that is–or can be–independently good. That’s where I break out the crucifix and holy water.Report

          • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to James Hanley
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            We might be at risk of falling down a rabbit hole of trying to decide where free will lies, but I think you are seeing things as rather polar; between some sort of untrammeled free will, versus coercion.

            I would put it this way- that a nation isn’t just a bunch of people in proximity to each other- it is more like a partnership, where people accept current and future obligations which are unspecified, with no guarantee of outcome.

            So in being a citizen of our nation, I am accepting all sorts of things which may or may not be beneficial or harmful to me, and to which I may or may not personally agree.

            Citizenship defined this way doesn’t just happen- it requires the cultivation of a mindset that embraces the idea of self denial and stoic acceptance of things we don’t prefer.

            Certainly, we should prefer things voluntary when possible; but we need to be mindful of the fact that very often, intereactions ARE win-lose, and there isn’t room for everyone to go their own way.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Liberty60
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              It seems to me that you’re confusing acceptance of outcomes one doesn’t like with coercion, when the two are not the same. And “losing” doesn’t necessarily mean being coerced, but it is still suboptimal.

              You and I will travel far along the oath of this citizenship together. Where we will part ways is when you say that some outcome X is superior when coerced than when it is wholly voluntary. There’s a level of creepiness there, a preference for forcing compliance over having everyone voluntarily accept that outcome, that is disturbing. It means that outcome X is better if we have violated someone’s preferences than if we have satisfied everyone’s preferences, that a world in which everyone has agreed to the outcome is inferior to a world in which we have forced someone into compliance. A world in which Omelas is good because a child is tortured.

              I can’t envision you as evil in that way, so I can only presume you haven’t really thought through the moral implications of that particular claim.Report

            • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Liberty60
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              says:

              I would put it this way- that a nation isn’t just a bunch of people in proximity to each other- it is more like a partnership, where people accept current and future obligations which are unspecified, with no guarantee of outcome.

              The problem I see it, is that you seemed to argue above that leaving is an abrogation of this partnership. Since we’re largely born into our partnership, that sort of means it’s an involuntary one. That doesn’t bother you? I mean, we might accept it as a necessary evil, but it seems to me that there is some good in allowing people to enter a partnership more to their liking. Telling a gay person in North Carolina that they can move to Massachusetts and get married there, for instance.Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to Trumwill
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                Trumwill, this shows why the language we are using is faulty.
                Defining citizenship and society entirely in terms of these economic terms, of voluntary choices, exits, and so forth doesn’t address the fact that the most important single factor is that we are born into society, and automatically inherit things we never earned.

                I never chose to be born a white male in mid-20th Century America; yet I have enjoyed the benefits of that all my life; How do I “opt out” of the obligations of American citizenship, aside from becoming an alien resident? Do I need to “refund” the benefits I have enjoyed?
                Economic language is an absurd thing to use to describe this.

                James, I’m not sure how I communicated that I somehow prefer coercion over voluntaryness, especially in and of itself; I agree that we should prefer voluntary interactions where possible.

                However, there are some things in society that are so important, we make them (by majority rule) mandatory, without any opting out. Which means that even those who prefer not to engage in that activity, are compelled to do so. Examples would be concription, or jury duty.

                Obviously, the more intrusive an act is, the more cautious we need to be in applying it.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Liberty60
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                Liberty 60,

                So would you then argue that a resident of North Carolina has an obligation to stay in North Carolina instead of moving to Massachusetts? Would you argue that a Mexican has some sort of moral obligation to stay in Mexico? Seeing as how they are products of their inheritance?Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to Will Truman
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                Will- No, not at all.
                In fact, what I am saying is that if you want to “opt out” of the obligations of being a citizen, moving away or renouncing your citizenship is entirely correct and appropriate. And of course, surrendering the benefits that come with that citizenship.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Liberty60
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                Liberty, but that’s the system I’m proposing. Just one where it’s easier to do that. So it’s unclear to me where you actually differ.Report

              • Avatar Trumwill Mobile in reply to Liberty60
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                says:

                Nobody here is talking about getting to retain the benefits of the place you left (unless it’s paying off a debt incurred or something), but you seem to have been poo-pooing the idea of leaving a place that is democratically choosing or for whatever reason being or becoming not to be a place you want to be. Or poo-pooing the notion that people should have more options to find a place they like.Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to Liberty60
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                says:

                On your last sentence, I would in fact poo poo.

                Or more exactly, I would assert that making “you can always take your ball and play elsewhere” as the foundational premise of a society is a recipe for the dis-integration of a society itself; its the economic equivalent of the “self actualization” stuff that cultural conservatives rightly mock.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Liberty60
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                says:

                So the Great Migration was a mistake? Immoral, even?Report

              • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Liberty60
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                “Tired? Poor? Huddled Masses? All a bunch of gorram fishin’ ingrates”Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Liberty60
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                what I am saying is that if you want to “opt out” of the obligations of being a citizen, moving away or renouncing your citizenship is entirely correct and appropriate

                making “you can always take your ball and play elsewhere” as the foundational premise of a society is a recipe for the dis-integration of a society itself

                It’s no wonder we can’t follow you, Liberty. These may not be contradictory, but they sure don’t seem to be particularly congruent. It’s ok to leave, it’s not ok to make leaving ok?Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Liberty60
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                See, I take the point of view that if you’re unhappy here, and you’d be happier there, then you should be happy there instead of unhappy here, at least most of the time. It would require pretty specific reasons to poo-poo it, anyway.

                Taking a look at South Dakota and saying “Wow, this place has taken a pretty hard-right turn” and moving over to Minnesota strikes me as eminently reasonable. Or leaving California for the opposite reason or whatever.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Liberty60
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                says:

                Liberty, you said pretty clearly a while back that in some cases coercion might be preferable even if the two resulted in the same outcome. If that was a mis-statement, I’m happy to let you clarify it.

                How do I “opt out” of the obligations of American citizenship, aside from becoming an alien resident?

                So if you decide you dislike the U.S. society into which you were born, is moving to another country wrong?Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to James Hanley
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                In the words of Newt Gingrich, anyone who quotes what I said is a liar.

                Seriously, I don’t harbor fascist tendencies, and haven’t since I formally denounced Reagan in the famous secret speech of 1996.

                I think what I may have been trying to say is that the act of surrendering a portion of our self-autonomy to the community is a good practice, within reasonable limits; allowing the community to impose its will upon me, even if it isn’t what I prefer, even if it isn’t voluntary, CAN at times be a good thing.

                I’m certain, that on this point, opinions vary.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Liberty60
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                says:

                But I think that is a response to a strawman. Nobody has ever said that it is possible for a person to always get what they want when they are part of society, or that it is wrong for them to shrug their shoulders when they’re in the minority and accept what the majority wants. Even when we’re not in the minority. Take a simple two-person society, say a marriage. Neither my wife nor I always get what we want; sometimes we give in to the other’s will. Nobody is arguing that there’s anything wrong with that, or that there is some possible world where people can be free of that necessity. If it’s not possible in a two-person society, it can’t be possible in a society larger than that.

                What we are talking about is making it easier to get out when the demands are too great. People should be allowed to determine for themselves where that line is, and should have total freedom to exit when the line is crossed.

                And instead of striving to make ever larger populations live under exactly the same rules, we should allow more local populations to have greater say in devising their own rules, so that it’s easier for those people to find a place to exit to. If Mississippi and Massachusetts are starkly different, then different people can minimize how much they have to submit. If Miss and Mass are required to be fundamentally the same, then at least one group of people is forced to submit to a much greater extent. I don’t see how that can be a desirable end goal, unless we see coercing others to submit to our preferences as a good in itself.Report

  5. Avatar Murali
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    I think competing technocratic states with free migration is a great idea. The hard, though not necessarily insurmountable problem is establishing the initial norm. Then, states will be less willing to close borders as states will experience the benefits of more open borders first hand.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Murali
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      Within the US, closing borders isn’t possible to establish the norm (not that it hasn’t been tried). The right model might be able to attract the people you want, though. You just can’t really get rid of those you don’t want in any formal process (you can, however, price them out).Report

      • Avatar George Turner in reply to Will Truman
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        San Francisco successfully priced out minorities, becoming one of the whitest cities in the nation. Soon even whites won’t be able to afford to live there and they’ll have to try attracting space aliens (There’s an economic reason Star Fleet Academy is on the bay).

        One of the trends that’s shown up is that states with very progressive welfare and disability laws have attracted the poor and disabled, who are an extra burden that requires raising taxes on businesses, which then start leaving for other states. States with low welfare payments and low business taxes then attract the business fleeing from high-tax states. The states attracting the businesses see their welfare and unemployment burden lessened because more people have jobs, and the smaller burden is spread across a larger number of businesses. It’s a positive feedback cycle whose effects become more dramatic as mobility increases.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to George Turner
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          San Francisco successfully priced out minorities, becoming one of the whitest cities in the nation.

          That’s not even close to true.Report

        • Avatar Turgid Jacobian in reply to George Turner
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          (There’s an economic reason Star Fleet Academy is on the bay).
          Okay, I really dislike George, but that space is funny.Report

          • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Turgid Jacobian
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            “Dislike” George? Dude is made of awesome. That’s not nice.

            As for SF, his shoot-from-the-hip was in the zone—Hispanics are way underrepresented*, and as many San Francisco frequentees are aware or become somehow dimly conscious, where are the kids?

            It’s not a real place. San Francisco is EPCOT for singles, DINKs, and other high-income types.

            San Francisco has a hilarious/tragic history of trying to humanely deal with its indigents, but I’m surpassing the link limit. Suffice to say San Francisco’s aspirations toward exemplary morality towards the homeless has met the reality of becoming a magnet for them. The other side of a “freedom of mobility,” where George rightly notes

            One of the trends that’s shown up is that states with very progressive welfare and disability laws have attracted the poor and disabled, who are an extra burden that requires raising taxes on businesses, which then start leaving for other states.

            San Francisco isn’t Anywhere USA, it’s quite one-of-a-kind and like Rolex, will always attract enough folks willing and able to pay its price. Creating rules from the exception is bad reasoning. You want the rule to start generalizing from, that would be just across the bay…

            Oakland.

            ___________________________
            *Persons of Hispanic or Latino Origin, percent, 2011 (b) 15.4%[SF] 38.1%[CA avg]

            Persons under 18 years, percent, 2011 13.5%[SF] 24.6%[CA avg]

            http://statspotting.com/2011/04/income-in-the-us-asians-have-the-highest-median-income/

            http://www.mediabuyerplanner.com/entry/36386/gays-lesbians-earn-far-more-than-media-us-household-income/Report

        • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to George Turner
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          “The states attracting the businesses see their welfare and unemployment burden lessened because more people have jobs, and the smaller burden is spread across a larger number of businesses. It’s a positive feedback cycle whose effects become more dramatic as mobility increases.”

          Yes, but this leads to higher property values, and ends up pricing out minorities. Then you end up like San Francisco.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Liberty60
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            Not necessarily. See, for example, Houston.

            And once again, San Francisco is over 50% minority. They haven’t actually been priced out. Repeating an inaccurate claim does not diminish its inaccuracy.Report

            • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to James Hanley
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              I agree with you, actually; My snark was to highlight that one of the drawbacks to building a city that everyone wants to live in, is that everyone wants to live there, and property values and rents rise accordingly.

              Both the People’s Republic of San Francisco and the Libertopia of Houston have solid reasons for attracting residents.

              Which demonstrates that the simple metric of “Low Taxes R Good! Libruls Bad!” doesn’t hold water.Report

  6. Avatar Will Truman
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    Outstanding post, James. Your wisdom is made all the more clear by the fact that I completely agree with it. The truest sign of being right. 🙂

    More seriously, you touch on a lot of the reasons I support a more federalistic model and why I think it’s a solution to some of democracies problems. The challenge is, of course, that we feel a sense of kinship with Americans wherever they are, and so we feel if Montana is mistreating this group, or Massachusetts is mistreating that one, we want to step in. Sometimes, of course, this is quite valid. I believe the feds were absolutely right in some of their incursions in the south, I believe religious freedom should be protected in Utah, and so on. The question is once something ceases to be left to local discretion and becomes a civil right. Jim Crow involves civil rights, we’d all agree. Does Medicaid?

    I have my own ideas, and since I prefer local discretion to national discretion, my answers are going to differ compared to a lot of people’s. My answers are, of course, losing.

    As far as charter cities go, my main concern is the pulling up of the ladder. Which, if this is what happens, may be right and just and moral, or might not be, but is often going to be a hard sell without redistribution to keep people molified. Or maybe it wouldn’t happen at all.

    I think charter cities as places of experimentation for failing cities is a great idea. Which is the other thing I like about federalism (though which has nothing to do with democracy and therefore is tangential), which is the fifty laboratories (of democracy, so not wholly unrelated!) model.Report

  7. Avatar Jesse Ewiak
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    The big fallacy with this is the idea is that it’s easy to move. For the successful in life, it is indeed easy to move. Sell your house in one planned development community and move to another planned development community. But, if you’re a single mom stuck in a “charter city” with little or no public services because your ex-husband got a job there a few years ago and then decided to find another woman, then it’s not going to be so easy.

    Charter cities sound like a great idea for corporations (who can play them off each other to pay even less taxes or hell, even create their own “charter cities” where they pay nothing), mobile people, and the like. To be blunt, charter cities sound like the company towns of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s with a new face. I mean, let’s say there’s a “charter city” run by Company X. You get a job there, but stuff happens, and as a result, you’re deeply in debt to Company X for your home/power/etcetera. Why would Company X allow you to flee to another charter city instead of making you hang around to pay your debts?

    Of course, I’m also the person who thinks states should be given as little as power as possible. Leave the kind of penny ante stuff (zoning/trash collection/etc) to local government and the important stuff to the federal government. I also realize I’m in the minority on this site for believing this.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Jesse Ewiak
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      You get a job there, but stuff happens, and as a result, you’re deeply in debt to Company X for your home/power/etcetera. Why would Company X allow you to flee to another charter city instead of making you hang around to pay your debts?

      I don’t think anyone is suggesting that charter cities should have the ability to prevent people from leaving simply because they owe money.Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Will Truman
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        Why wouldn’t they have the power to do so? After all, if people don’t like that idea, they won’t move into the charter city in the first place (assuming they know of the provision) or will leave before accumulating any debts.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jesse Ewiak
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          Jesse, if you re-read your comment, I think you’ll find that you answered your own objection; you satisfactorily explained why cities wouldn’t be likely to impose such a rule.

          But let me re-emphasize that the crucial principle here is free entry/exit. If there’s in fact no free exit, then I don’t support the idea, but you’re positing a different type of system. E.g., it’s like asking a support of traditional democracy, “but what if they don’t let you vote?” Well, that’s bad, but it’s not the system being proposed.

          That said, there’s no reason why the various polities couldn’t have treaties with each other for collecting debts, so that while you could leave in order to find better opportunities, you wouldn’t necessarily be off the hook for your debts.Report

          • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to James Hanley
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            So, you’re arguing for a utopian system where no “charter city” wouldn’t do the cost-benefit analysis and realize they could probably institute a law limiting “free exit” if you owed the charter city anything. Great, then I can argue for a utopian system where there’s no downside to taxing people at 90%. 🙂

            Of course a utopian system might even work well. But, I’m throwing people and people’s inherent greed/lust for power/general bastardy into things. That’s not even getting into the fact that while you find Liberty’s shrug at a coerced society disgusting, that I find the idea of to de-legitimizing the whole idea of an inalienable right to democratic self-government in favor of a “market” of governance is just as creepy to my statist mind. Guess what, even if liberal representative democracy isn’t the most efficient government out there, I’ll take the drag on GDP.Report

            • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Jesse Ewiak
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              You’re arguing the necessity of a component that nobody is proposing. Hanley’s entire argument is built around the freedom of mobility. Therefore, it stands to reason that his charter cities would not infringe upon said mobility. The charters would have to be granted by somebody, I’d think. Requiring freedom of mobility, since it’s central to the entire rationale of having charter cities to begin with. This is not a stretch.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Will Truman
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                I also think that Hanley’s conception of these things is that you can’t voluntarily agree to contracts that eliminate your rights. Liberalism as JH conceives of it isn’t freedom to oppress, defraud, coerce, etc. So I think that condition is built into the model.

                Jesse’s complaint, on the other hand, seems to be whether the idealized model will translate into practice in the *right* way, and how to ensure that it does.

                {{I could be wrong about all that tho.}}Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater
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                I also think that Hanley’s conception of these things is that you can’t voluntarily agree to contracts that eliminate your rights.

                I agree that in our current system such a contract would not be enforceable, and I have no complaints about that. Philosophically, though, this is a tough question, and I am not sure where I stand on it. Logically it may be impossible to contract away all your rights, because then you would have no right to hold the other party to their share of the bargain.

                But as to Jesse’s concern that a city might deceive you as to the terms of the contract, I think it’s quite clear that you’d be justified in exiting against its will because it’s committed fraud against you.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Will Truman
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                You do have a freedom of mobility, as long as you don’t have a bill. Just like I can leave Denny’s and have the freedom of the market to take my butt over to IHOP at any time for breakfast, as long as have paid for my Grand Slam breakfast.

                Of course nobody is proposing this part. McDonald’s doesn’t advertise it’s Big Mac’s will make you fat, so I don’t expect charter city advocates to advertise that an illiberal set-up can easily be taken over by the rich and powerful to their own ends.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jesse Ewiak
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                And the U.S. doesn’t advertise that it will be monitoring all of your electronic communications. All the rest of your criticism applies to liberal democracy following your own standard of critique.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Will Truman
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                says:

                Will,

                Initially the charters would have to be granted by somebody, since all the earth’s surface is claimed. Seasteading would be the exception. But in theory, the long run result of such a system might be that there is no higher authority, that each polity competing for citizens might be fully independent. So even if not initially, Jesse’s question is relevant ultimately. But the main problem I see with his questions is that he seems to think they uniquely apply to the proposed system, and isn’t taking into consideration their application to liberal democratic states. I sense an implicit use of the nirvana fallacy, which regrettably does not surprise me.Report

              • Avatar Trumwill in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                Full independence, at least within the borders of a national protectorate (or immediately adjacent to, in some cases), is notably further than I am willing to go. It’s entirely possible that the market would solve this, but I wouldn’t bet on it. I’d want to keep the intrusion to a minimum, but various things like the Bill of Rights (or most of it) and freedom of mobility would be required for the charter to be respected, in my view.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Trumwill
                Ignored
                says:

                I’m not at all sure that it’s not further thn I’d be willing to go, too. Certainly my Burkean sensibilities would rebel at making a quick and large scale shift to such an experimental system. But if it happened in a stepwise fashion over the course of generations, no generation at any time has to take such a big and risky step. And if along the way they find more costs than benefits they can retreat in a stepwise fashion, too.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jesse Ewiak
              Ignored
              says:

              Jesse,

              1) It’s not a utopian system. Don’t muddy things up by mischaracterizing it.

              2) You said, ” if people don’t like that idea, they won’t move into the charter city in the first place (assuming they know of the provision) or will leave before accumulating any debts.” That has direct bearing on your question, ” no “charter city” wouldn’t do the cost-benefit analysis and realize they could probably institute a law limiting “free exit” if you owed the charter city anything.”

              I think it’s fairly clear just how you managed to pre-emptively answer your own question. If not, then you may not be understanding the concept of a cost-benefit analysis.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                I’m not sure who’s saying what on which side here, but as a more concrete example, there are apparently quite a few cases of (Euro & North American middle class) people who went to the Gulf states over the last decade in hopes of getting in on the boom, lost everything, and are now in debt, homeless, and can’t leave
                http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-10665047
                (nb: this guy was allowed to leave a little after this story came out; can’t find article I read a few years that had a collection of such cases)
                (nb2:but if there’s one thing the Gulf States aren’t, it’s liberal democracies)Report

              • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Kolohe
                Ignored
                says:

                When I first read this, I thought you meant TX-LA-MS-AL-FL and wondering what the heck was going on that I hadn’t heard about. My second thought was that it reminded me of some things I’d read about the Middle East. My third thought was “Oh.”Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Trumwill
                Ignored
                says:

                Heh, great minds.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kolohe
                Ignored
                says:

                Heh, by Gulf States I though you meant Mississippi, etc., and the only part that didn’t make sense was the “not allowed to leave” part. The “not liberal democracies” part didn’t even make me blink.

                It’s orth noting, though, what kind of effect this kind of story coud have on western business thinking about locating in the gulf. Dubai moved to fee simple ownership of propert by foreigners precisely because it was a better market move for them, and Qatar (iirc) has been spearheading a western-style legal system for the same reason. It woukdn’t be surprising if Dubai, especially as their boom has slowed, will come to realize that the kind of rule in this story is counterproductive.

                A key element in the system I’m discussing is the long-term structures that develop in response to the need to attract citizens. What occurs at time T1, when such a system isn’t really even in place, cannot be assumed to be what would happen at time Tx. Tate’s especially true when we’re talking about policies that we find revolting, precisely because we find them revolting.Report

              • Avatar Trumwill in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                The “not liberal democracies” part didn’t even make me blink.

                Sadly, me neither, and I am a product of the Gulf. (Of Mexico, that is.)Report

          • Avatar Kris in reply to James Hanley
            Ignored
            says:

            James,

            I know I’m just a dickish, loberal parrot, but I have a serious question.

            What would happen to a city if it refused to let a certain type of person in, say, blacks or the poor? And if there are certain things that the city-states can’t do (like restricting entry) mustn’t there be a governmental entity that controls the individual city-states?

            Also, aren’t there free rider problems that are possible. For example, suppose city 1 is set up with no benefits for the eldery, intentionally to keep them and their low-productivity oldster ways out. (I know the tiebout model was creates to deal with free rider problems, but this foot-voting utopia you’ve created seems like it has a free rider problem, too.)

            And the only way out of thie free rider problem is again if there are more rules governing the city-states, coming from some national government.

            Also, the city states will inevitably get in conflicts. These will have to be moderated to avoid violence, again presumably by a national entity. (Reduction of local violence is a big, big selling point of large, liberal democracies with some protection for minority rights.)

            Finally, what would happen with city-states that worked to indoctrinate their own people. Imagine a city of super-hutterites that refuse to allow women to be educated and as a result, few of the very mistreated women never leave. Again, a national entity would have to police against tbat.

            And this national entity would need tax revenue to run an army, courts, and police forces to moderate disputes. And if this national entity isn’t democratic, that will be worse for everyone.

            So, I don’t see how you can make your utopia work without a large, national democracy.

            I’m not saying you disagree, I just wanted to ask.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kris
              Ignored
              says:

              I’ve already said this isn’t a utopian vision, yet you begin by characterizing it that way. Bad faith from the start does not incline me to answer your questions.

              I’ll just respond with this. Follow the logic of your arguments and ask yourself if you favor a global government. If so, I respect your consistency, but I doubt we can understand each other. If not, then you’ve answered your own questions and I don’t need to. (Quick, what is the entity that we “have” to have that polices against Saudi Arabia’s super-Hutteritism?)Report

              • Avatar Kris in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                You defined it as not “perfect” so your proposal isn’t utopian in that sense. But there is another sense of the word “utopian” that means an idealistic, probably not very practical or easy to institute, idea for reform.


                1 a. An ideally perfect place, especially in its social, political, and moral aspects.
                b. A work of fiction describing a utopia.
                2. An impractical, idealistic scheme for social and political reform.”

                http://www.thefreedictionary.com/utopia

                Any attempt to change liberal democracy to something better will be utopian in that second sense. Indeed, there is nothing insulting about characterizing a rather big chage like this proposal as utopian. Hell, universal health care in the U.S. was called utopian in that sense and you’re proposal requires a fundamental change in how government works, not just a specific policy change.

                I really am asking in good faith. I found the proposal and you’re responding pretty angrily and dismissively.

                I think in my perfect world, there would be a world government (me and Einstein agree) with a mandate to crack down on, say, Syria (for violence) and Saudia Arabia (for treatment of women) but I don’t see any remotely plausible way to bring that about on (the UN doesn’t really do this) a global level -at least not until Cochrane discovers warp drive- without creating a bigger mess than we have now.

                But the advantage of liberal democracy in large places like the U.S. is that you do have some minimal protections for women and children even in places like Hutterite colonies, e.g. requiring some schooling, no child brides, etc. (Could be and should be more protected, but that’s a brewing storm, IMO.)

                But I can see you don’t want to address my questions, so I withdraw them.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kris
                Ignored
                says:

                Kris,

                I responded dismissively because you didn’t argue in good faith in our other debate, and then you used the word “utopian” here after I had explicitly rejected it. Yes, you can find a dictionary definition that allows you to step back from the implication, but in context I don’t think you could honestly expect anyone to have realized you meant the third definition rather than the first one.

                If you are sincerely asking questions, I’ll sincerely answer when you persuade me you’re going to engage in good faith.Report

              • Avatar Kris in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                Now I’m curious again.

                How do you respond to the free rider problem I cited earlier?

                Is it that you can’t respond or you won’t respond.

                You’re like Seinfeld. “I choose not to run.”Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kris
                Ignored
                says:

                Is it that you can’t respond or you won’t respond.

                Oh, I know a thing or two about free rider, so it’s “won’t.” There is a way you could actually get me to answer, but this isn’t it.Report

              • Avatar Kris in reply to Kris
                Ignored
                says:

                You eventually did respond, BTW.Report

              • Avatar Kris in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                Also,

                I ended by characterizing it in that way. I didn’t begin that way.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kris
                Ignored
                says:

                You’re that weaselly? Seriously?Report

              • Avatar Kris in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                After that last thread and your hairsplitting about the definition of “butchering” and your tortured attempt to accuse me of not knowing what ad hominem meant? And now your refusal to answer a legitimate question just because you don’t like my use of the term “utopia.”

                Yeah, I’m the weaselly one here. Sure.Report

            • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Kris
              Ignored
              says:

              The original post talks about the importance of free entrance and exit. It does not talk about doing away with the national government, nor of giving charter cities complete free reign. There are things we can account for in the setting up of charter cities that address these issues. There is a world in between what we have now and a plethora of city-states without any national authority.

              Whether I myself would support charter cities would depend on (a) what it takes to become one and (b) the scope of authority they have. If there isn’t free entrance and exit, I’d oppose them pretty vociferously. But as little units of experimentation, the idea appeals to me.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Trumwill
                Ignored
                says:

                The original post talks about the importance of free entrance and exit.

                Yeah, I’m getting pretty irritated at the commentators who are ignoring that point. It’s as though someone wrote a post explaining how liberal democracy works and the first responses were, “but what if they don’t let you vote?”.

                Or someone describing soccer and the questions begin with, “But what if you aren’t allowed to kick the ball?”

                Asking, “But what if it isn’t what it is?” isn’t really a very intelligent question. I suppose it’s only the unfamiliarity of the proposal that misleads people into thinking it is.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Jesse Ewiak
          Ignored
          says:

          Because we don’t give debtholders that much power over the indebted. They don’t have the ability not to allow you to leave. I don’t believe charter cities change that. What can they do if someone leaves? They can try to recoup their debt, but they can’t do anything in the event of a default.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Will Truman
            Ignored
            says:

            Will,

            To be fair to our critics, I think we have to ask in this scenario who this “we” that gives or withholds the charter cities’ power over the indebted is. Ultimately the idea leads to a radically different system, where there is no “we” in the sense that I think you’re using it here.Report

          • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Will Truman
            Ignored
            says:

            We don’t now, mostly. But, debtor’s prisons aren’t that far away in the past and in some places across this country they’re returning for a variety of reasons. So, if various private probation companies can use the current law in a way to send people to prison for low-level misdemeanors, I have little doubt that our fine Technocratic Corporate Overlords will find a way to do so as well.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jesse Ewiak
      Ignored
      says:

      Answered above. Thanks for reading.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jesse Ewiak
      Ignored
      says:

      The big fallacy with this is the idea is that it’s easy to move.

      It’s not only economically difficult for most people to move, psychological factors impinge as well. So while a purely “market oriented” view of decision-making wrt moving or not is entirely clear – you move if you think it will improve your material conditions – most people have strong ties that bind that prevent moving even if they would experience a rise in disposable income.

      I don’t intend for this comment to be a criticism of charter cities perse. But rather that taking a “market oriented” view of social life breaks down in pretty obvious and non-trivial ways even before the suggestions gets outa the blocks.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater
        Ignored
        says:

        The psychological costs are part of each individual’s cost/benefit calculation, so I see no problem treating them as part of a market consideration as any other cost or benefit is. One of the notable features of the liberal democratic world is how it has facilitated exactly the type of mobility that is being denied here. The history of America is the history of people not letting these psychological factors tie them down. If for some the psychological cost of leaving is too high, well nobody’s telling them they have to go.

        The argument that not everybody will find it worthwhile to move is not exactly a powerful critique.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater
        Ignored
        says:

        taking a “market oriented” view of social life breaks down in pretty obvious and non-trivial ways

        This is an interesting issue that’s somewhat outside the scope of my post, and I hesitate to take it on lest the debate get dragged that direction. The short story is that I don’t agree, so the objection rings false to me. But I recognize that perhaps my disagreement involves a somewhat radical view of the terms “market oriented” and/or “social life.” It’s a discussion we should have some time.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Jesse Ewiak
      Ignored
      says:

      “The big fallacy with this is the idea is that it’s easy to move”

      If it were hard for poor people to move into and within the US, we wouldn’t have a problem like Sheriff Joe (or most of American history for that matter)Report

  8. Avatar Burt Likko
    Ignored
    says:

    For a few hours there, this post was somehow marked as “private,” which means it was not visible to the general public or commentariat. I’ve no idea how that happened, and if I did that in the course of moderating the symposium it was inadvertent and Prof. Hanley has my apologies. Certainly no one told me the post was to be taken offline for any reason.

    In any event, I’ve reversed that and discussion regarding this interesting proposal may and should resume.Report

  9. Avatar Pierre Corneille
    Ignored
    says:

    James,

    I accept that overall, the ability to vote with one’s feet is a good thing, as is a system where different localities compete for members/citizens.

    I have some quibbles, especially how to enforce the right to exit. As David Bernstein pointed out, it was not uncommon in the late 19th/early 20th century South for the state to enact measures that made leaving the state, even a locality in a state, difficult. These included, for example, laws that made it a crime to precipitously break a labor contract. It seems there ought to be, under your proposed system, some sort of overarching authority.

    The second quibble isn’t really a quibble but a question: as a marginal libertarian, what policies might you endorse to lead us more fully in the direction of the Tiebout option? Any sort of “new federalism” policies that might be enacted? What might states and localities do? In short, how do we get from here to there (or more “there” than we already are, always acknowledging that we’ll never be completely ‘there”).Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Pierre Corneille
      Ignored
      says:

      Pierre,

      I think the exit rights would ultimately be enforced by decisions of the people. I think the governors of a city/state that denied exit rights would find themselves under tremendous pressure. Nobody would want to move there and tremendous costs would have to be expended to keep people in. Think E. Berlin. People would continually try to escape, and violent revolt would be a continual danger.

      Curiously, in your example of the South, without the overarching authority how would the crime of breaking a labor contract have been enforced? Lack of the higher authority would have made it easier to precipitously leave.

      As to “new federalism” proposals, let me begin by emphasizing that in the U.S. I think the 14th Amendment provides a baseline of civil rights applicable across the country. Federalism is not synonymous with a state right to discriminate against minorities. One obvious area I’d return to the states is education policy. I’d also eliminate nearly all federal laws other than those that are necessary to prevent criminals from benefiting from fragmentation of jurisdictions (kidnaping and wire fraud laws, for example, I would keep). Environmental policies that didn’t affect multi-state resources would be repealed. That would affect a lot of wetlands, but multi-state water resources would still be subject to federal regs, but having the affected states work together to develop joint solutions would be favored over federal rule-making. Air pollution would still be under federal control by that standard. Drinking age laws would be returned to full control of the states, but that would be coupled with returning responsibility for road construction/maintenance to the states, with the exception of the interstate highway system perhaps. I’d also propose a constitutional amendment authoring secession of states (dependent upon some kind of majoritarian process, and with some rules to deal with invested costs). That last would actually be the key one that would take this from strengthening federalism toward a system of states competing for citizens. I expect that constitutional amendment to pass right about the time howler monkeys fly out of mr backside.Report

  10. Avatar Pierre Corneille
    Ignored
    says:

    “Curiously, in your example of the South, without the overarching authority how would the crime of breaking a labor contract have been enforced? Lack of the higher authority would have made it easier to precipitously leave.”

    I think part of Bernstein’s point was that the federal courts provided the opportunity for redress, while the state courts (and law enforcement) were the obstacles. These weren’t federal laws, and I suspect many were actually very local. Once someone is in jail, that someone might not in practice be able to enjoy recourse to such tools as habeas corpus to secure freedom.

    Now, this is the type of system that you are trying to work against, so in that sense, your critique is fair and I am perhaps making the perfect the enemy of the good.

    Your “new federalism” proposals (sorry….I realize it’s anachronistic inasmuch as it evokes Nixon et al.) make some sense, although my authoritarian-loving, liberty-hating liberal self might balk at some of them. But however good they are, most of them seem unlikely to pass, due to vested interests, institutional constraints/incentives, and all the other things that make life, politics, and reform very messy. Are there solutions that are even more “marginal” (more likely to pass) than these?

    Perhaps I’m interpreting “marginal” to mean something more like “incremental,” and that might not be what you mean by it. Perhaps I’m also moving the goal posts: you wrote the OP to get us to debate the merits of your brand of Tiebout competition and not to offer a plan to get us (closer to) there.

    But I think most of your readers are in agreement that it’s usually for the best if people have more mobility than not and that localities do their level best to make things better to encourage people to move in. I think such is true even for the liberals here who are raising objections. With some exceptions, most them seem to be reacting to something deeper or unstated that they read into what you’re writing and not exactly to what, specifically you’re writing.

    So, for what it’s worth, I realize you answered my question fair and square.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Pierre Corneille
      Ignored
      says:

      I would have substituted another term for new federalism for the same reasons, but couldn’t come up with anything better. But I understood what you did and didn’t mean.

      Unfortunately, no, I don’t think there are many marginal (and incremental works) proposals that I think have much chance. Despit “New Federalism” and devolution and U.S. v. Lopez I think we’re on a continued trend toward continued nationalization of public policy. The first increment in my ideal is just to begin the reversal of that process. And of course in addition to those entrenched interests, some honestly think greater national unity is superior to federalism, and I find them as hard to persuade as they find me difficult to persuade. Overall, I’m not at all optimistic.Report

      • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        There may yet be solutions, although I might be on the different side of the fence than you are.

        I do think that merely reversing the process might be the wrong way to go, because that leaves the would-be reverser in the position of being accused of wanting to revert back to control by people who already have the power and will abuse it locally instead of nationally.

        Maybe the best anyone can hope for is that enough people will follow Jason Kuznicki’s advice and civilly disobey the most unjust of the laws and create their own spaces within a stronger and increasingly robust civil society, and maybe it will be these spaces that compete for membership and not an official charter city program, which of course would probably have to be vetted by some constitutional or legalistic procedure. Not sure….just thinking off the cuff here.Report

  11. Avatar Pierre Corneille
    Ignored
    says:

    Grrr….that was meant as a response to James at 6:06 pm.Report

  12. Avatar Pierre Corneille
    Ignored
    says:

    This is probably not where James intends to go, but I think there is a liberal friendly way to embrace and promote the social mobility idea, although it probably lacks some of the features that would encourage localities to compete for citizens. In short, I would recommend making certain national guarantees (here I go with the “nationalizing our solutions” bit, contra footnote #4), to wit:

    1. Guarantee the portability of marriage and civil unions.

    2. Guarantee a minimal amount of health insurance coverage (or health care coverage), although each state/locality might be free to determine how to go about it.

    3. Guarantee the liberties found in the bill of rights and made applicable to states by the 14th.

    4. Some sort of guarantee on the right to break certain contracts (e.g., labor contracts) without threat of imprisonment.

    5. Probably other things I can’t think of now.Report

  13. Avatar Tom Van Dyke
    Ignored
    says:

    “One of the assignments I give my students is a voting assignment, in which they tally the votes in a hypothetical election using different head counting methods (plurality, plurality run-off, sequential run-off, and Borda count), with each head counting method producing a different outcome, even though none of the voters changed their preferences.”

    The essential lesson on democratic “systems,” and the limits of “process” even when scrupulously fair.

    That’s my takeaway. Ace post. The root of small “r” republicanism—the consensus of a consensus of a consensus—troubles me not atall. In fact it’s my preference over “democracy.”

    Consensus built brick by brick, by family, by tribe, by clan, in the olden days. “Nation” in that Braveheart sense of “nation.” [The basic political unit, tribalism, is hardly dead today, as much as we’d like to believe otherwise.]

    Consensus:

    In 2012, after looking at the pretenders, that Romney’s the best we’ve got, and now that he’s made it through the gauntlet without screwing it up, the GOP unifies behind him.

    In 2008, that America won’t elect a black guy, esp not one this inexperienced, and besides we can win with the first black president’s old lady.

    Well, stuff happens on the way to the ballot box. We talk to each other. Kick it around, every step of the way. Me, I like our stupid system, this seemingly interminable series of debates and little elections all building up to The Big One, and a ton of discussion in between about each step of the way.

    Instead, like the Europeans, we should have a 3-month election period topped off with a popular vote?

    The very idea scares the bejesus out of me, President Trump, with all due respect.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Tom Van Dyke
      Ignored
      says:

      If we really followed the Euro model a prez Trump would be very unlikely. Their short campaign/election period is preceded by on-going intra-party maneuvering, so that the leadership candidates presented to the public aren’t the kind of spur-of-the-moment choice a Trump would represent.

      There are, of course, other differences between the systems that make it reasonable, dependent upon one’s values and preferences, to prefer our system. I’m not arguing against that. But in fact a Euro system would be much less likely to give us an inexperienced guy like Trump–or Obama–than is our systemReport

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        I’m engaging your post as from a LoOG guest poster.

        I did not come to fight, but to praise this very good post per your field of expertise.

        “One of the assignments I give my students is a voting assignment, in which they tally the votes in a hypothetical election using different head counting methods (plurality, plurality run-off, sequential run-off, and Borda count), with each head counting method producing a different outcome, even though none of the voters changed their preferences.”

        As for Europe and the parliamentary system, I’m uncertain as to which of the American presidential candidates in our lifetimes could have been considered the leaders of their party when nominated.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Tom Van Dyke
          Ignored
          says:

          I didn’t see my response as fighting, just clarifying one aspect of the Euro system.

          As to your last part, I’d have a hard time saying as well. LBJ perhaps, but beyond that?Report

          • Avatar Trumwill in reply to James Hanley
            Ignored
            says:

            Gerald Ford, somewhat ironically.Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Trumwill
              Ignored
              says:

              Dole was Senate Majority Leader. The various sitting VPs (Nixon, Humphrey, Bush, Gore) could be viewed as the heirs to the executive, having been vetted over the past 4-8 years.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Mike Schilling
                Ignored
                says:

                Forgot about Dole. Don’t know enough about Humphrey. Bush and Gore possibly. Nixon needed the system we have.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Will Truman
                Ignored
                says:

                I meant Nixon in 60, not in 68.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Mike Schilling
                Ignored
                says:

                Well, the way I see it, Nixon’s claim to fame was the vice presidency, his election to which was very much a part of our system. The whole “pick the guy from California” and “round out the ticket” (with someone unfireable) are kind of system-specific. I don’t think he would have ascended any other way. People around him didn’t like him and didn’t have the oomph of someone like LBJ to force his way to the top.

                That’s my thinking, anyway.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Mike Schilling
                Ignored
                says:

                Ford and Dole deserve consideration, but I’m not sure either was a “party” leader, rather than just the leader of their chamber’s party caucus. I gave LBJ consideration because he was a more dominant Senate majority leader than any other in history, but of course he didn’t get the nomination right off of that, so I probably wasn’t right, either. He only became the true party leader after the ’64 election.

                Not to knock the suggestions here; they’re the best we’ve got. And I think they’re the best we’ve got because our system just isn’t designed to give us a party leader the way a parliamentary system is. With symmetric bicameralism and an independent executive there’s too much fracturing of leadership authority for there to be a true party leader. Certainly in an institutional sense, but also, I think, in the more amorphous sense of there being one person who clearly most represents the party.Report

  14. Avatar Jason Kuznicki
    Ignored
    says:

    there is no method of counting heads that can satisfactorily aggregate our individual preferences into a rational group preference order

    Here’s where you lose people, because the vast majority of Americans all think like Hegel on this point, even if they don’t know it: The will of the majority is the will of the people, and the minority’s will is sublated into it. You transcend yourself — and become nobler — when you agree to the majority’s will. You become better by challenging yourself to think like your fellow citizens.

    At least, on the point of homosexuality, that’s what everyone believed during the era when homosexuals were still a criminal class. I haven’t forgotten that. In fact, I’ve made remembering it into something of a principle. Sublation is a lie that power tells to itself. It’s also the way most people really and truly think about their relationship to government, at least when they’re in the majority.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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      says:

      Do you have any evidence that people do think this way, rather than simply not making a fuss when public commentators talk about the preferences of a majority being the will of the people, while not actually believing it in a conscious, committed way, or perhaps flitting back and forth between thinking there’s something a bit useful about embracing the conceit while understanding that it represents an ontological nullity, or any other of a number of ways of thinking about the concept that is consistent with what we actually observe, which as far as i can tell is basically just seeing them listen to a small number of people (possibly loosely and with none of the intent you describe) use the language, and just not have a conniption over it?

      I’d also enunciate, not that you suggested otherwise, that just thinking that the majority should usually rule amounts to precisely none of what you describe here with respect to what it would mean to think that the preferences of a majority are “the will of the people.”Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        Do I have evidence that people think this way?

        Of course. Look at how the right refers, when it wins, to “real” Americans. The others aren’t quite real Americans, but once they think like the majority, they will be.

        The counterpart on the left is “progress.”Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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          says:

          Well, I said “that people do think this way,” but since at least two people do probably think every which way, I thought I would be understood to be asking whether you have evidence to support your claim about how many do, namely a vast majority of Americans. And to that question, I don’t accept, for example, that all that many people on the right actually do think in terms of dividing up citizens between “real Americans” and others who are something else, rather than that having simply been a particularly ugly locution deployed by a particular pol at a particular time. As to progress, to me when people talk about pogress they’re talking about policy being better at time t+y than it was at time t (despite the fact that there is some opposition to the change that occurred during that time). I’m not sure how that implicates a claim about the will of the people.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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      says:

      You transcend yourself — and become nobler — when you agree to the majority’s will.

      Hence the idea of the noble savage. /snark.

      Yes, I can never hope to reach the Hegelian or the believer in Rousseauean general will. I’m happy to let them have their own communities, though. Or perhaps they should be distributed as minority groups among other communities, where they can ennoble themselves.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        I was taken by Rousseau’s idea when I was first introduced to it because in my reading he made no claim that the majority rightly ruled, but that the General Will was a metaphysical distillation of the public’s preferences that took proper account of minorities – and indeed of all permutations of opinions that in any measurement would come out as simple agreement. IOW, it was the ideal thing that instruments of measurement, as demonstrated by your classroom activities, cannot ever correctly represent. If I recall, Rousseau wasn’t suggesting that voting would bring about a legislature and policies that approximate the general Will, but that the GW exists, and it’s the job of a legislature, if one is constituted, to try to divine it using sensibilities not quite described in the text, and act according to what they discover.

        Yeah, I know. You don’t have to say it.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew
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          says:

          But he also said that if your will differed from the general will, you were in the wrong. That’s the part of Rousseau that bothers me even more than the mathematical non-existence of a general will. The latter he can be forgiven for not knowing.Report

  15. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto
    Ignored
    says:

    I’m agnostic on the idea of charter cities, but am generally skeptical about confederal models of governance.

    Part of this is a skepticism that devolved power is able to deal with a lot of the institutions of economics we have today. In particular, I’m not entirely convinced that smaller governing units are compatible with larger economic units and scales. City-states are a viable form of governance when they have some degree of control over their economic and environmental conditions. This starts rapidly changing when they lose this not simply to larger outside actors (including states), but also to non-state factors like environmental degradation or say trans-state economic actors.

    I’m honestly not certain how to correct for that sort of effect, particularly as the structure of economic actors allows essentially for the localization of externality costs while allowing scaling of profits and ability to pay off potential local regulators.Report

    • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Nob Akimoto
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      says:

      The Articles of Confederation and European Union have not inspired a lot of confidence in the model. My own preference is for somewhere in between where we are now and that point. Not that far out, though. We do need a degree of central authority.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Nob Akimoto
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      says:

      Yes, these are real problems. One of the dynamics I find fascinating is the way that the EU seems to be making member states feel safer bout granting greater autonomy to internal regions. I think there’s a message about the value of nested institutions there, and that nested confederalsm (for lack of a better off-the-cuff term) could answer some of your concerns. Perhaps that’s just another term for federalsm, which, after all, has infinite variety in theory and practice (or so the book title says).

      I often think I lean toward a global federalism, with free mobility between all its parts, and with policymaking being delegated to the lowest level that incorporates all stakeholders, no lower and no higher (not that defining that level is always clear). I think in many ways that’s actually what I was moving toward in this post, although obviously the post didn’t get there.Report

  16. Avatar Michael Drew
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    says:

    I don’t understand what change is being proposed. Don’t people choose what city they live in now?Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Michael Drew
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      says:

      Dissolve the monetary union.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Murali
        Ignored
        says:

        Also, some states are not economically sustainable. Living comfortably there takes more money from the federal government than they send. This makes them too ready to spend on inefficient projects and too reluctant to tax the residents. Or you weakened the american union to a treaty of common defence and enforced inter-state peace and mobility, we might see better lives for every one or almost everyone.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew
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      says:

      Michael,

      A) Theoretically this expands beyond the U.S. Potentially world wide.

      B) It presupposes an awful lot more individual autonomy for those governments, up to and including the authority to be engage in non-democratic decision-making. Whether they have authority to simply say no to the unlikeables (whomever they may be in the particular government’s case) is dependent on how the structure evolves–in the U.S., so long as they fall under our constitutional structure, presumably not; but outside the U.S., or if they are sea-steaders, such authority may be available to them.

      C) Unlike Murali, I’m dubious about ending the monetary union. But that’s a matter of how things would evolve. And there’s a key to this whole thing–it doesn’t outline an end structure, just a process. That’s why it’s not utopian. It allows individuals to offer differing types of polities–perhaps radically different–so that everyone can choose from what most closely resembles their version of utopia. It doesn’t impose a single vision of it for everyone. In this system, if you wanted to have a commune, you could. If you wanted to try pure local sustenance (buy local, think local, act local!), you’d be more than welcome to impoverish yourself trying–if enough people stuck it out and were content to live a materially poorer life in exchange for living ethically it would be a successful community. If you wanted a community where there were all churches and no porn, and there was enough demand, you’d find it, and the opposite community as well, all dependent upon whether there are enough similar minded people. That’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, of course, but it should get the general idea across.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        I’m still not following what the proposal actually consists of.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew
          Ignored
          says:

          Well, if I didn’t make it clear in the original post and all the follow up comments, I’m not sure how to make it clearer. Think first about cities in the U.S. being chartered so that they have more policy autonomy and fiscal responsibility than they have now, then think about not restricting that to cities per se, but any functionally sized unit of government (townships, counties), then think about expanding that system beyond just the U.S., so that I can as easily move to Jakarta (or the county/district adjacent to Jakarta) as I can to New York (or Westchester Co.).

          For each unit, if a policy issue doesn’t directly affect anyone but them, that unit would get to make the policy decision (education policy, minimum wage, maximum work hours, liquor laws, what color you can paint your house, etc. etc.). If that city/township/county/district wanted to have a democratic system, they could (I’m not sure how extant cities might move away from that legitimately). If someone creates a new city, they can choose whether to make it democratic or technocratic, or what mix of the two to have. Communes, ok. No minimum wage capitalist paradises, ok.

          Free entry and exit–that’s the one basic rule. They can’t tell you you can’t come in (I’d make exceptions for religious separatist groups), and they sure as hell can’t tell you you can’t leave. I’m not sure what part’s not being made clear.Report

          • Avatar Kris in reply to James Hanley
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            says:

            Would an individual city be allowed to say “Once you come, you can’t leave.”

            Because unless you have that, I don’t see how you avoid a massive free rider problem.

            To see how the free-rider problem works, consider the following:

            Imagine we had free entry and exit between all countries on earth instituted tomorrow. Every poor person from China and the developed world would move here or somewhere with a safety net the next day. The safety net in wealthy countries would then broken. Any country offering a safety net would be punished.

            Moreover, countries like China will be much better off. China may even institute policies making people not want to come back. (Not barring their entry, just making them want to leave.)

            The previously wealthy countries would respond by trying to get rid of the new poor. (Again by some indirect means.) So maybe some wealthy countries would pass laws allowing ethnic discrimination: no safety net money for people with yellow skin, maybe all people of color will become slaves.

            Similarly, old people will flock to where benefits (paid for by younger people) are the best. But this increased tax burden in supporting the world’s elderly will make life for the young worse, causing benefits for the elderly to go down. All countries will respond by reducing benefits for the elderly.

            Some country might get smart and say, “You can have our good benefits, e.g. an old age pension and welfare if you lose your job, but you have to spend your productive years here paying into the system.” But that only works as a policy if that country could coerce its citizens to stay in the country while they were productive.

            But once you allow countries to require their citizens to stay in country or and to only offer benefits to those who have been in country while they were productive, you don’t really have free exit and free entry anymore.

            So I see no way to avoid the free rider problem without at least restricting the free exit/ free entry rule.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kris
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              says:

              Would an individual city be allowed to say “Once you come, you can’t leave.”

              What part of “free entry and exit is so hard to understand?

              I like the assumption that the poor will all flock to the best welfare system, not to the place with the best economic opportunities.

              As to the elderly, a simple solution would be to require a pay in to receive a certain level of benefits. The pay in could be paid over a number of years working or it could be up front.

              As to “maybe all people of color will become slaves,” again, what part of free entry and exit is so hard to understand? And do you really think that nobody anywhere would welcome people of color into their city? Have you ever taken a gander at Dubai, which is about as close an example as we have today to a charter city? Yes, I know the things we don’t like about Dubai, but that’s beside the point. The point is that in desiring as much economic development as possible, Dubai has welcomed residents (not citizens, but residents), from all over the world, including lots of folks of color.

              As noted previously, this vision is not utopian. There are no doubt points to critique. But a critique that everyone of color will become slaves; that nobody would find it profitable to market to the non-whites who make up the great majority of the world’s population is a bit ridiculous.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley
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                says:

                Dubai? Heh. The best view of Dubai is out the window of the jet as you’re leaving for Amsterdam. Dubai’s a sinking ship from which the rats are leaving en masse.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP
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                says:

                I repeat,

                Yes, I know the things we don’t like about Dubai, …Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                The poor flocked to Dubai for jobs. They left when the jobs disappeared. The poor don’t go where the welfare’s sweetest, they go where the jobs are. And when those jobs disappear, they disappear. As in Dubai. So many people are leaving Dubai the streets are now cluttered with abandoned cars, which Dubai has taken to impounding and selling elsewhere, if they can. Otherwise they’re put in the ol’ Crusheroo.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to BlaiseP
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                says:

                Dubai bans guest workers from tapping social services, yes? Find work or leave?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                Blaise,

                We’re in perfect agreement on this.

                I personally loved visiting Dubai, and am considering trying to teach there for a semester or two. But I wouldn’t dream of living there long term.

                @TVD, yes. And they expect guest workers to keep their mouths shut. And there’s no path to citizenship. It’s a hell of a lot more liberal than Saudi Arabia (women can even wear bikinis on the beach), but “classically liberal” it ain’t.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP
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                says:

                I wouldn’t return to Dubai for love or money. If Dubai’s a Charter City, it broke faith with the foreigners who built it. People are killing themselves in Dubai over mounting debts. The people who can, flee. The rest are treated like shit. Literally.

                My mental image of Dubai is a gold-plated toilet with the flush pipe dumping out onto the ground. That’s Dubai in a nutshell. When the wind blows off the land, all that untreated sewage behind the dunes stinks LOUD. Nothing can subdue that stench.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                The question of foreign nationals-guest workers-welfare recipients-future citizens is fraught with peril and is best left undiscussed by the prudent commenter.

                Or so said the message inside the cookie that came with the Moo Goo Gai Pan I had for lunch. Which was excellent, BTW.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP
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                says:

                Eh, to each their own. None of us has to like what others like. It’d be a dull world otherwise.Report

              • Avatar Kris in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                Sure, some of the poor will flock to opportunity too, but we live in a world with unemployment, blindness, mental handicaps, severe mental illness, etc. Some level of welfare -and I can hear the derision when you even think of saying the word “welfare”- in the form not just of cash but also subsidies for education and job training is necessary to make the world a good place. Your non-utopia has a free rider problem in that it provides a strong incentive for all societies to structure themselves so as to keep the poor, disabled, and less productive out in favor of the more productive. That much is obvious. The only question is how do you solve the free rider problem.

                Let’s be clear. If your preferred non-topia has rules requiring that no individual charter city will enact slavery (hardly a mere hypothetical in the history of the world) there must be a federal governmental body that enacts that rule and enforces it. If there is such a body that governs the charter -presumably it will be democratically elected with protections for individuals, and not run by, say, hereditary kings- then you have a system that looks a lot like the current one.

                As I suggested, the best solution to this free rider problem in your non-topia is to tie benefits to citizenship and productivity: you get X benefits when you retire or if you become unemployed, as long as you have been working here for Y number of years.

                If that kind of tie between benefits and prolonged work and residency exists in most charter cities to solve the free rider oroblem, you’ll see very little exit and entry between cities (people will need to stay to keep or get their benefits) and your non-topia won’t be a whole lot different than the actual world. If that tie between benefits and prolonged work and residency is rare and only happens for particularly wealthy workers, then you do see a lot of “foot voting”, but you also have a non-topia that again discourages providing benefits for the poor, disabled, the less productive, etc.

                That’s the free rider problem. You seem to want to get pissy rather than admit that the problem is there and to discuss it rationally. So be it.

                I know little of Dubai, except that it is filled with oil money and has done some good things. That is irrelevant the free rider problem I’ve mentioned, however.

                On an unrelated note, Dubai is not so great either:

                “However, many human rights complaints have been reported upon. Most notably, of the 250,000 foreign laborers in the city live in conditions described by Human Rights Watch as being “less than human.”[1][2][3][4]

                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights_in_DubaiReport

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Kris
                Ignored
                says:

                Kris, the one who keeps talking about doing away with the national/federal government is you. As much as anything, the proposal is about shifting the current balance away from national and towards local, not necessarily doing away with the former. Giving local governments more – but not unlimited! – authority.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Will Truman
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                says:

                Will, our hive mind fails on this point, too. Certainly that is a starting point, but I hold open–without necessarily advocating–the possibility that the trend could readily extend beyond just the U.S.

                Honduras has already granted permission to two , iirc, charter cities. Dubai already acts to some extent as a charter city. Perhaps Hong Kong traditionally has as well. At least in the minds of the folks who really back this idea, it would ultimately be a world-wide system that breaks down the traditional rigid immigration controls of countries. That is, some countries might join in the game. Or perhaps most wouldn’t, but there would be enough of these things around the world for people to choose from.

                Where Kris actually goes wrong is not in thinking that maybe Charter Minneapolis would allow slavery (presumably the 13th and 14th Amendments would still apply), but in thinking that a place that enslaves people would actually be a part of the system of free entry/free exit cities/states, rather than just being a traditional state.

                I’m trying to describe mammals, and he’s saying, “but what if it has feathers?” Well, then, it’s just not a mammal. “But it could have feathers!” No, that’s a different animal. “But it actually will have feathers!” Sigh, then it’s not a mammal. Class dismissed.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to James Hanley
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                says:

                Based on your 7:17 comment, I was reading your comments along the lines of moving things in a particular direction and seeing how it goes. Maybe, at some point in the future, you look at a more aggressive project, if the initial project goes well. So we would not be precluding a national government, at least until the point where one does not seem necessary. But having one for as long as it is necessary. Is this wrong?

                For the sake of argument, ten years after the charter city system were born, New Orleans was one and prevented free-entrance and free exit, would you pull their charter or would you let it descend into an unfree state?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
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                says:

                The “see where it goes” really is the key. Contra utopian schemes, this approach doesn’t try to define the end point, but just a process which will go where it goes. And that certainly does not preclude a national government, and in fact I fully expect that if this scheme were to ultimately lead to the disappearance of national governments as we know them today–which is some advocates hope, I think–that such an outcome is one hell of a long way down the process line, many generations away. I just think as the one who broached the idea that I have to deal with the potential of that–or if it’s simply too unrealistic to even be a potential, the reality that some of its advocates would like that. Because there are some tougher questions at that point, so I don’t think I should use the current, and likely future for quite a while still, reality of national governments to duck those tougher questions.

                That said, a slave state in that hypothetical future is still not part of this system any more than a state that denies the vote is part of a liberal democratic system. And that a slave state might arise amidst a group of free entry/free exit states is no more an indictment of that system than the fact that states allowing slavery actually exist today in the midst of a system of liberal democracies is an indictment of liberal democracies. So I’m willing to address the tough questions of how this system might function outside the constraints of a national government, but I’m not willing to accept that the system is a system of slavery, anymore than liberal democracy is a system of disenfranchisement.

                As to your New Orleans example, assuming the U.S. Constitution was still in place and hadn’t been amended in a way that allowed what NOLA was doing, then I’d yank it’s charter. If the U.S. had dissolved, or allowed NOLA to secede, that’d be a bit different. But then I’d be all for aggressive foreign policy against it, and an explicit policy of helping people escape from it. It would have removed itself from the system of free exit/entry, so it would have become an illiberal system. I’m all for being tough with illiberal systems, if we can figure out which tough moves will actually have a positive effect.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to James Hanley
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                says:

                Okay, that’s still along the lines of what I thought you were saying. A direction, but not a destination. I am aware of some of the more aggressive grand visions, but didn’t think that you were advocating that. We can, of course, recognize it as a possibility somewhere down the road. We can recognize all sorts of possibilities. If something like that makes sense down the line, no reason to worry about it now. There are lifetimes to see how it goes.Report

              • Avatar Kris in reply to Will Truman
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                says:

                Thanks Will,

                This seems to be th crux of my dispute with you and James.

                James framed his charter city non-topia as an “alternative” to liberal democracy.

                I argued that in order to work, the charter cities would need to be governed by a national government so as to a.) guarantee basic liberties for all citizens of all cities and b.) prevent free rider situations where some cities intentionally tried to rid themselves of the poor, needy, and less productive. I think we could add that the government might need to also c.) organize a common currency and d.) enforce some contracts and debt arrangements across different city-states.

                In order to do a, b, c, and d, the government would need to have a police force and military and judiciary, paid for by taxes. This government would need to be democratic and liberal.

                So, James’s non-topia would require liberal democracy in order to exist.

                In what sense is it an alternative to liberal democracy, then? It seems like a modification of liberal democracy, if anything. And given that we already have federalism at the state level with free exit and entry between the states, governed by a democratic national government, it’s not clear how it’s all that different from what we have now.

                It could be radically different if the charters weren’t heavily regulatedby a national government in ways a, b, c, and d. But that radically different form of government, that “alternative” to liberal democracy would suffer badly from free rider problems amomgst other things.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kris
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                says:

                I know little of Dubai, except that it is filled with oil money and has done some good things. That is irrelevant the free rider problem I’ve mentioned, however.

                Not irrelevant at all, Mr. Critical Thinker. You implied nobody would welcome people of color, and I pointed out a city that very explicitly has (albeit without opportunity for citizenship). So, yes, quite relevant.

                On an unrelated note, Dubai is not so great either:

                Jesus Fucking Christ, are you actually capable of reading? I noted that we’re aware of Dubai’s downside. You don’t gain ground by pointing out what the other person has already noted. My point wasn’t to praise Dubai, but just to use it to rebut your assheaded claim that no place would welcome people of color.

                As to slavery, there is slavery in the world today. The countries that allow it are not a part of the system of liberal democracies. Does that prove the failure of liberal democracy? No, it’s outside the system of democracy. Now I’ve defined a system of free entry and exit, so any state with slavery is outside that system. Can you really not understand that? A slave state is not part of this system any more than it is a part of the liberal democratic system? Put your fishing critical thinking skills to work here, pal, and you ought to be able to figure that out.

                . Some level of welfare -and I can hear the derision when you even think of saying the word “welfare”

                Then you haven’t been paying attention.

                As to every charter city/state having an incentive to try to keep out everyone who’s poor, disabled, less productive, you’re really not very clear about how markets work, are you? Do GM, Ford, Honda, etc., only build luxury cars? Why not? Because you have to meet the needs of more than just the elite.

                Now consider some schmuck named John, who’s considering moving to a charter city. John’s a hard working guy, but he’s got an disabled child. He’s considering two cities, one that provides some kind of services for the disabled, and one that doesn’t. Which does he choose?

                But what about when John dies and his kid is left alone, right? So you (or I, for that matter), are trying to decide which city to move to. One has disabled people roaming the streets because they won’t provide any services for them, while the other provides at least some level of services that keeps them fed and off the street. Which city do you prefer to move to? Personally I prefer the latter. As long as there are plenty of people like me–and I presume like you and most of my other liberal friends–it’s simply not true that this system provides a strong incentive to not provide services to the disabled.

                Is the non-service city actually free riding on the other city? No, because they’re sacrificing productive residents by driving them away with their policies. They’re not really gaining anything at the other city’s expense.

                As to the poor, it would be impossible for every place to attract only the wealthy, so some would clearly welcome the poor. And the poor would be disproportionately attracted to the places where there was real opportunity. Shouldn’t be hard to believe unless you’re one of those right-wingers who think poor people just suck off welfare because they don’t want to work.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to James Hanley
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                says:

                You bring up a really good point. In the US, it’s often the wealthiest states that actually have some of the strongest welfare programs. New York and California don’t have to do as they do, but they do anyway. There are reasons to believe that this work work for the cities, too.

                The places you’d actually have to worry about would be the poor ones, not the rich ones enriching themselves.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Kris
                Ignored
                says:

                People don’t move where the welfare’s “better”. They move away, as they’re moving out of Dubai. The Dubai Experiment failed.

                Tell you ‘nother thing in passing, KSA is leveraged to the hilt, they’re about to implode under a mountain of debt the likes of which has not been seen in the history of the world. Same thing happened to Spain when all that gold started coming in from the New World. Seventy-odd years later, Spain was bankrupt. That’s the eventual fate of KSA and same goes for Kuwait and the Emirates. Soon enough they’ll all look like Yemen, except Yemen is just a little greener. If you want to make some money teaching in some oil-rich shithole, my advice is to get a position in Iraq, preferably up north Kirkuk way. Lots of investment opportunities up there. Just stay out of Baghdad.

                Your hypothetical about disabled children doesn’t really hold water. Right across the street from me, the woman who runs the barbershop has a profoundly autistic son. His therapy hours were cut from 12 to 3. They’re not moving. They can’t afford to move. Your example presumes poor people can just get up and go. Doesn’t work like that. Anyway, most of that funding comes from Federal sources, usually block granted to the states. IDEA funding has been cut and more cuts are proposed.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP
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                says:

                Your example presumes poor people can just get up and go

                Already covered, Blaise.Report

            • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Kris
              Ignored
              says:

              Kris, that you ignore what has actually be said (slavery and discrimination would still be barred by the national government that can still exist) leaves me to question whether it’s worthwhile to respond, but I will give it a shot.

              The reitrement things would be dependent on a benefit-defined rather than contribution-defined retirement system. The latter would mean that you can take whatever you have accrued with you when you leave (like a 401k). The former could be handled a number of ways, most analogous to public pension plans. You have to work in a city for a certain number of years to be eligible for your pension. You are still free to leave, but you wouldn’t get a full pension if you left early.

              The welfare-for-the-poor is reasonably problematic. The charter cities might work like states in this regard, where they have some discretion on what sort of aid to give the poor. There might be less in the way of welfare. Other accommodations might be made. There’s no great solution, but a lot of people don’t consider the current solution great, either.

              Your approaching this proposal as something that it’s not necessary for it to be. When you say “the system would not be all that different from what we have now” that’s actually a part of the discussion. It could be less different from what we have now, or more different than what we have now. You seem to be taking the more extreme variation and then poking holes in it.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley
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            says:

            I can’t see what you’d be pointing to in your post, the above comments before this last one, or even the Tiebout wiki link that explains what the proposal here is. I don’t know what a chartered city is, first off. I don’t know how you get people that move to one autonomy from laws that higher levels of government place on them just by being within wider borders. Until I understand what you’re suggesting should be done to get to this state where cities can offer this kind of haven from state and federal laws – how limited or ubiquitous that option would be for cities, how they’d procure it, what requirements would remain, etc. – I don’t really think there’s anything to consider here. I mean, practically everyone in the country lives in a municipality of some kind. Because I’m not understanding what any of these mechanisms are, I’m having a hard time seeing where this isn’t more or less a proposal to simply overturn the Supremacy Clause (except that instead of having to pass a law saying that federal law x doesn’t apply to our residents, that would be the baseline assumption, at least with respect to some of them), to some extent doing something similar to the relationship between states and municipalities, and let things fall where they may. If that’s basically what it is, well then cool. I’m less in the dark than I thought.

            On free entry and exit – across current international borders, that’s a clear enough proposal. In terms of freedom of exit from one city in the U.S. and entry to another – are you talking about something substantive that we don’t currently have in place? What legal barriers to internal migration are you putting in your sights? I’m certainly predisposed to support such proposals.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew
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              says:

              Michael,

              Imagine being free to enter/exit around the world, just as you could leave Milwaukeee for Minneapolis. Imagine that one place could say, “there is no minimum wage,” and another place could say, “everyone here must live in the communal house and work for the benefit of all, not for a paycheck.” One could say, “we make all decisions through discussion and consensus,” and another could say, “we’ll set the rules and be fair, but you don’t get to vote on them–if you like that, come, if you don’t, we wish you the best elsewhere.” And it could be in Bakersfield or it could be some community that nobody has imagine yet, which could be next door to Bakersfield or in the jungles of Thailand.

              Here’s a link on charter cities. Here’s one on seasteading.

              The essential idea is to make political units compete for citizens, rather than having politicians who compete for the votes of essentially captive citizens. If the right to move freely from Minneapolis to Milwaukee is great, then wouldn’t the right to also move freely beyond their common higher-level political unit be greater still?

              Would it work out? Eh, in truth I’m something of a pessimist about it. I’d expect conflict and wars and an eventual return to something like the system we have now. But maybe I’m wrong. And aside from that, as an exercise in thinking about what such a system–if it is feasible–would mean for our understanding of traditional liberal democracy, I think it’s a worthwhile concept to ponder.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                We’ve already got Contract Cities. They’re called Suburbs. The people who had access to capital built those cities, installed fine upstanding citizens in ’em (no blacks or Mexicans, puh-leeze!), raised the property taxes to pay for good schools, oh it was a scheme which couldn’t be beat. Put ’em all in ticky-tacky li’l homes on the installment plan, they had their little kids and their backyard barbeques and tricycles on the sidewalks. Oh they were goddamned paradises. You know where the word paradise came from? It’s a Persian word, pardes, an irrigated garden. Lots of subterranean canals were dug to service those paradises. And the same paradises appeared on some of the richest farmland in the world.

                Somewhere in Eden, a worm, a worm

                That consumer society would borrow its way into oblivion. The oldsters who got into those homes on the basis of their GI loans are all being tucked away into their coffins these days. Their kids, well, those kids grew up with a sense of entitlement, had some fun as hippies, read some Camus in college, got married, got divorced, got married again. Their kids grew up and theirs, and now we’re up to our eyeballs in a mountain of consumer debt we were told would be good for the economy.

                And we’ve still got bullshit artistes, trying to sell us Moah Freedom. There’s a catch, there always is. The contract city was a mighty engine of wealth for the contractors who built the Levittowns and Reston and the rest of those ersatz paradises. Didn’t quite pan out as everyone had hoped. These developer types and the investment bankers who seem intent upon turning us into Debt Beasts, a few of them should be chosen by lottery and hanged from the lamppost closest to the Bull of Wall Street, to add some spice to the proposition of Profit and Loss.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                Sound and fury.Report

        • Avatar Kris in reply to Michael Drew
          Ignored
          says:

          Michael,

          I can think if at least one difference between the current state of affairs and James’s utopia (or non-utopia, if you prefer to describe it as such.) Under James’s proposal, some cities wouldn’t offer social services for the poor.

          Other cities might try to indirectly discourage the poor or blacks from living their by, say, instituting slavery for blacks or the death penalty for the poor.

          If there is some governmental body that prevents cities from violating rights and that requires all cities maintain a basic level of social services for the poor, the proposed world (the non-utopia) would be pretty similar to what we have, especially if the governmental body that was in charge of the cities was democratic with some constitutional protections for individual rights.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kris
            Ignored
            says:

            Other cities might try to indirectly discourage the poor or blacks from living their by, say, instituting slavery for blacks or the death penalty for the poor.

            Free exit = slavery?

            If you were trying to persuade me you really are qualified to teach critical thinking skills, you just blew it. Do you also believe that war is peace and ignorance is strength?Report

            • Avatar Kris in reply to James Hanley
              Ignored
              says:

              My claim is that the poor in your non-topia may have to end up living in charter cities where they are enslaved. They would have the freedom to leave, but may only have options that are worse (starvation) or equally bad (slavery of another sort).

              That is a sort of worst case scenario that could occur (I’d say something less bad is more likely) in your non-topia that is not occuring in liberal democracy.

              Yay liberal democracy,Report

      • Avatar Kris in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        “That’s why it’s not utopian. It allows individuals to offer differing types of polities–perhaps radically different–so that everyone can choose from what most closely resembles their version of utopia.”

        Everyone gets their own utopia.

        That’s pretty utopian.

        That’s, like, meta-utopian.Report

  17. Avatar North
    Ignored
    says:

    Interesting post James, a question: who gets the peripheries?
    I mean obviously the immediate surroundings of these charter cities would inevitably be associated with them but what about the farmlands, the mines, the forests and the streams. Also who adjudicates between the cities? Minneapolis is way up at the top of the Mississippi? If the Chartered City of Minneapolis (after reducing the vile St Paul into a smoldering rubble strewn hellhole*) became a massive chemical industrial city and feedlot hub and turned the river downstream into a toxic ribbon of crap and poison what recourse does the Chartered City of St. Louis or New Orleans have?

    *though I wonder if they’d be able to tell the difference.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to North
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      says:

      North,

      I can’t answer that. Those who seriously advocate this approach emphasize that they are not devising an end structure but a process that will evolve whatever end structures evolve, which will depend on what people want. Obviously the issues you mention will ultimately have to be dealt with, but the “who gets,” is not really the right question; rather it should be “what’s the process for deciding” that we should be looking at. At present I don’t know, and I’m not sure anyone does, because we’re far from that point. If we look at Honduras, where they are experimenting with a couple of charter cities, we can see what they do and how it works, and learn from them.

      As to bombing St. Paul, I’m pretty sure the residents of Minneapolis are a bunch of namby pamby liberal weenies who would recoil from such an aggressive move. I suspect the first move of Charter Minneapolis would be to pay tribute to St. Paul to keep them from attacking. 😉Report

      • Avatar North in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        Okay understood.

        You badly underestimate the loathing between the two (Liberal) cities. It’s understandable as Minneapolis is a real city where as St Paul is a city only by virtue of being the state capitol and thus being able to assign themselves large buildings and suchlike.Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to North
          Ignored
          says:

          So, this little boy from Minneapolis goes to Sunday school for the first time. When his Mom picks him up, she asks him how it went.

          “It sucks rocks.”

          “What’s wrong, dear?”

          “The whole time it was St. Paul this and St. Paul that and they didn’t talk about Minneapolis once!”Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to North
          Ignored
          says:

          Oh, I get the loathing. But you have to keep in mind the weather. Either there’s going to be snow or there’s going to be mosquitoes, and either way the Minneapolis Army will refuse to budge.Report

  18. Avatar david
    Ignored
    says:

    The nature of a city is that it generates a massive economic surplus from industrialization and urbanization; for this reason, Tiebout competition won’t function in the way you characterize it as doing so. Even supposing we Tiebout only public services – leaving the tricky bits of military organization (free riders) and social insurance/egalitarianism (adverse selection) at the federal level – the dynamic is still that big cities get ever bigger* and small cities shed population, and politics in the big city reduces to drably familiar democracy rather than freedom of exit. You could leave, but the economic equilibrium is that you could only leave for rural poverty.

    Cities have increasing returns to scale, and politics is less about customized policies than about dividing up the surplus resulting from there being a city rather than a thousand villages. You are picking the wrong economic analogy; a city is a single Coasean firm contemplating its internal dynamics, not a consumer considering a market of policy ‘commodities’.

    * there are technological limits to how large a city can get, but even a cursory examination of megacities in outside North America show that US cities are very far from the possibility frontier.Report

    • Avatar david in reply to david
      Ignored
      says:

      (I mean, really now, contemplate any hot-button issue at a US municipal level, like school vouchers or charter schools. Does it stoke great anger and dispute because there can only be one school in this neighborhood and people disagree over what kind of school it should be, so introducing a second neighborhood a la Tiebout peacefully resolves the dispute, or because there are groups who would lose materially under each option because the cake will be sliced in a non-Pareto-improving way? If acknowledging that your favoured policy horse is non-Pareto improving discomfits you, ask yourself instead: have you ever charged that your political enemies support what they do for self-interested reasons? Why don’t you ever propose to buy them off instead?)Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to david
        Ignored
        says:

        David,

        Interesting points. I would offer that the problem is that democracy is currently being extended into non-Pareto domains. These do cascade into win/lose arms races. They become the “hot-button issues”.

        By creating choice between locales (and I would extend it to more choice within states as well) those with different values and interests could choose their preferred course without forcing others to go along. This converts a confrontational situation into a potential Pareto improving one.

        The greater point is that James idea leads to experimentation and institutional learning. Times of institutional breakthrough tend to be when institutions are being newly formed and are competing constructively with other institutions. For examples, consider the 1000 Greek City States, the 1000 European states, the era of colonizing the New World, or markets (with a different kind of institution).

        With increased choice, people would select the institutional arrangement that best meets their needs. This means a state that adds more value than it subtracts. Free riding and exploitation would be strongly penalized in such a competitive system because the victims would not allow it. Nobody chooses an exploitative institution is a Pareto improving alternative exists.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to david
      Ignored
      says:

      Eh, I never suggested the city was a consumer. And your focus seems to suggest individuals would only be choosing between a big city or rural poverty, which makes little sens when there are multiple cities to choosr from. In fact I’d think charter cities might find themselves having to figure out how to deal with free riding rural populations springing up nearby, as contemporary cities do, that enjoy urban benefits w/o paying urban taxes.

      I’m really dubious about your claim that small cities always shed population. I’m not seeing that as an inevitable dynamic, certainly not in America.

      I might be with you on the military aspect. Supporters of this idea probably hope we can ultimately do w/o militaries. I’d like to think so, but I don’t really buy it.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
        Ignored
        says:

        I should add that I’m quite open to hearing more detailed explanation of why Tiebout sorting might not actually work well in this type of structure. I can’t say that I know it will always work. But at the same time there’s also a question of how well it would have to work for this type of system to be desirable. I don’t think it would need to work perfectly to make the system desirable, but it would have to work pretty well–that is, well enough that the liberal values inherent in the concept are reasonably achievable; achievable at least as well as in liberal democracy. If it can’t achieve that, then it’s not a desirable path. Would it work well enough to meet that standard? I don’t know, but I’m open to arguments on either side.Report

        • Avatar david in reply to James Hanley
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          says:

          There is a wholly practical aspect of what public policies a city operating under free entry and common market can opt for in pursuit in assorted goals, quite aside from the inevitability-of-democracy I mentioned below. For example, such a city that wished to (say) reduce drug-related crime using safe injection sites would have to contend with addicts from every city in the common market migrating in, or otherwise impose de facto limits on free entry. For another, it could not administer inter-cohort transfers (e.g., education spending) based on residency alone; instead it must track individual tax contributions and identity, which implies a rather more intrusive state that I expect Americans are used to at a municipal level.

          Policies which involve coercion through transfers rather than generic service provision all cannot be carried out via Tiebout, meaning that you’re not really solving the problem of identity politics and losers from the political process. See my earlier remark on education politics as it already exists: shunting losers of a choice to another city works; shunting losers from a failed attempt at political transfers to another city doesn’t make them any more satisfied with the political process, however. It just encourages balkanization and a breakdown of the common market.Report

          • Avatar Roger in reply to david
            Ignored
            says:

            David,

            Your critique here seems to be that you can imagine problems that are solved one way today need to be solved differently in the future. This is true of any transition. The test is not whether the transition is perfect, it is whether the net benefits compared to costs is superior to real alternatives. Yes, benefits of citizenship may need to depend upon commitment past or future.

            Your final paragraph is still muddy to me. What does your shunting losers of failed attempts at political transfers mean?Report

            • Avatar david in reply to Roger
              Ignored
              says:

              Quite true. But surely knowing what solutions you can offer to problems is part of that cost-benefit analysis? If one says: let us have Tiebout competition between jurisdictions, then necessarily one says: let us have no policies which impose significant barriers to Tiebout competition, like barriers to free migration and settlement – and if a particular policy proposal happens to require de facto barriers to migration to remain attractive, well, then so much the worse for that proposal.

              If the problem can be solved differently – well, you’re certainly not supporting solving it differently now, so what additional costs does a Tiebout-compatible version impose? Unless you’re the peculiar sort of liberal who celebrates the capital controls and rigid international order of the Bretton Woods era as freedom-enhancing, I don’t think you would actually prefer those additional costs. I mentioned the development economist Dani Rodrik earlier and I really must emphasize him again, since he nailed the character of the policy trilemma pretty well.

              As for my final paragraph: when your political enemy says to you: we differ on this issue, so let us separate, and I will do it my way and you can do it your way; now let us argue over the manner of separation – then this is an issue which can potentially avoid resentful losers. You can both gain from separation, after all. Customization is Pareto-improving!

              But when your political enemy says to you: you claim that which is mine, you seek to destroy my way of life so that yours may prevail, let us fight – then there is no point in separation. Indeed social integration is all that is preserving the common national identity that disguises the zero-sum nature of the dispute. Tiebout can’t save you here – it doesn’t save you any of the trouble of convincing people that they don’t deserve what they think they do, and trying to force disputants into separate geographic regions just stokes the fires of nascent regional nationalism.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to david
                Ignored
                says:

                Thanks David,

                I think I get your final paragraph now. In my words, there is not necessarily a Pareto efficient solution to a win/lose desire. Parasites, predators, cheats and those that are intolerant (people desiring to force others to their values or lifestyle) can claim harm when their victims escape. They are harmed. Slave owners are harmed when a slave escapes.

                I’m not sure we ever really convince the parasites that they don’t deserve what they think they do. Over time, they just become irrelevant. When all their victims leave, the game collapses. Nobody convinced the guilds they were wrong, they just became irrelevant. Nobody convinced unions they were exploiting consumers, they just slowly exploited themselves out of jobs.

                I would suggest that there are a lot of states and sub states, and over generational time, people will flourish in less exploitative realms with better functioning institutions. I will look into Rodrik.Report

      • Avatar david in reply to James Hanley
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        says:

        James (and Roger):

        The notion that cities exhibit increasing returns to scale immediately implies that as long there are no political groups within cities that (for whatever reason) would lose from greater size and have the organization to resist growth, cities would become larger and fewer. So you cannot indefinitely assume that there would be multiple cities to choose from. As it stands the US already has one metropolitan area of a density and character unlike any other (the New York/New Jersey/Long Island area) and arguably it already heavily restricts its own growth.

        But that’s not really the problem. The problem is that since cities exist because of returns to scale at all, it will be quite rare to have cities agglomerate because of similar policy tastes. Law of large numbers plus a broad preference for a higher real wage means (1) that cities will tend to have strikingly similar demographic phenomena, and (2) that cities will also tend to have strikingly similar interest groups, despite astonishingly different histories, cultures, etc. A city operating a distinctive policy under free entry and exit has to continually fight off people who dislike said policy moving in anyway for economic returns-to-scale reasons, and then asserting their dislike of this policy* – and remember that there are already rigid limits as to how much you can policy distinctive and therefore dislikeable in a common market. Rodrik’s trilemma and all (common market, domestic identity and sovereign control over policy, and democracy: pick any two). In the end, you cannot escape an obligation to participate in the political process to continually re-legitimize the prevailing order.

        * I’m aware that democracy itself is the topic of discussion… but the question is not so much “do you vote”, but “what does the city do when a thousand people – perhaps just 0.1% of a medium-sized city! – make it grind to a halt via peaceful protest in defiance of Property and Legislature, as any sufficiently determined thousand-strong mob can do”. If you’re not prepared to have riot police beat them out of the streets, then you’re not really prepared to give up democratic politics. Better they vote a little than obstruct.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi in reply to david
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          says:

          Boswash, doncha mean?Report

        • Avatar Roger in reply to david
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          says:

          David,

          These are excellent points. I tend to agree that states will accumulate rent seeking, over regulation and other signs of sclerosis over time. Those attracted to the scale will actively try to change it over time. I believe similar dynamics occur in corporations.

          The effect of competition and the constant formation of new states and the demise of older failed states is that it helps to moderate the destructiveness of this sclerosis, both locally and globally. Before New York there was London. Before that there was Amsterdam, and Florence and so on. There is also competition within medium sized cities.

          I would add two things. One is that technology may be making geography less important. The other is that although James OP is about geographic choice, the larger issue applies to choice without relocation. Meaning that democracy can build more exit rights, competition and choice into its existing structure.Report

          • Avatar david in reply to Roger
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            says:

            Between New York and London, and for that matter Amsterdam and Florence, there was the not-so-small matter of great power navies establishing their relative supremacies via war, blockade, or conquest. I hope that by competition you are not including this manner of contest.

            You may be misinterpreting my argument. I meant it quite generally, not merely in the ahistorical case of a libertarian city accumulating non-libertarian immigrants. The most common historical case is almost certainly that of a state with an ethnic-national identity accumulating economic migrants whose children lay claim to the nationality, but not the ethnicity, and suddenly the question of “what does it mean to be British/Canadian/Australian/Malaysian/Ugandan/Irish/etc.” takes on a violent twist. e.g.: “our parents were guests here, but we are as much citizens as you, we deserve equal rights”, etc.

            Policies of overt discrimination were never sufficient to deter a wave of migrants of different skin, and since WW2, organized population transfer has no longer been an acceptable way for any ethnic nation-state to preserve its character. Cue resentment.

            Insofar as states accumulate rent-seeking, I suspect dysfunctional domestic politics to be the cause; many states have sufficiently volatile constitutional orders that a short-lived majoritarian mandate can sweep away much of the prevailing social order. Neoliberalization and third-way politics spanning Australia to Britain is strong evidence that states can abandon many claims on the public fisc if they so desire.

            Technology making geography less important is ambiguous re: Tiebout. It can make cities affect each other more, too, and then separation is no longer so easy.Report

            • Avatar Roger in reply to david
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              says:

              David,

              No, I meant competition in more of a cultural evolutionary sense. Over time, millions of choices by countless people led to dominant cities emerging and others slipping into irrelevance.

              I believe societies become sclerotic over time not unlike old organisms. They accumulate good and bad regulations with seen and unseen side effects. Incumbents (meaning virtually anybody filling a given role in society) use the power of incumbency to protect their position by resisting change and seeking privilege. Eventually they gum up the machinery enough that better opportunities present themselves elsewhere.

              The cures for social sclerosis are competition (states or firms realize that they are losing and manage to regenerate partially or wholly), and basic population dynamics ( old cities/firms become irrelevant as less sclerotic ones emerge).

              What technologies do you suspect will lead to states affecting each other more and thus on net reducing competition and exit/entrance ability?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Roger
                Ignored
                says:

                Well, that’s the reference version of the story. Cities rise and fall, not on the basis of choice but logistics. Most of the larger cities in the American Midwest rose along the railway tracks: Chicago, Omaha, Denver, Kansas City. The older cities such as St Louis obeyed the same rule: St Louis especially was the starting point for the settlers moving west. New Orleans was the nexus of control over the Mississippi River.

                Ancient cities, same story. Cities (city-states) such Palmyra thrived while the Silk Road was in operation and died away when the sea routes to Asia were established. The rise of the Ottoman Empire depended upon the same economic proposition. The Ottomans were extremely odd governors: they had port cities on the Indian Ocean, especially at Basra, which they could have made into the likes of Venice.

                Social sclerosis is constantly at work. Viable societies do the preventive maintenance to keep themselves relevant. Though I’d love to see some forms of technology appear to attenuate societal problems, usually technology makes things worse, not better. Case in point, the two- then four- then six- then eight- lane commuter highway. Perversely, the more cities build up their highway system, the worse it gets until we get monstrosities such as Houston and Los Angeles and Atlanta, ringed about with brobdingnagian thoroughfares, choked to the gills with commuters moving at walking speed.

                Though it’s just a little hobby horse I ride from time to time, one I’m sure couldn’t work everywhere, I’d like to see some form of incentive for employers to reduce total commuting miles. I once worked with a tiny little town east of Phoenix, helping them get a fiber optic drop through a USDA loan/grant combination. On the strength of that, an old building downtown was recycled into a tech support centre and quite a few people moved to the town to develop software. I did the same, years ago, for a city in Guatemala, but with microwave towers: rounded up a little cabal of investors and got Siemens to do the work of installing the towers and switch.

                Incumbency is a state of mind. We’ve always done it this way and can’t see any other way of doing things.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to BlaiseP
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                says:

                Blaise,

                I don’t disagree with the value of networks, and that is what the sea lanes (once proper technology was created) and railroad tracks and freeway systems all established. Humans can accomplish more together than apart. Superior transportation and communication networks thus attract people and capital in a positive feedback process.

                In your terms, logistics affects choice and vice versa. One benefit of a big city, as David brought up is the size of the city itself, more people, closer together and better connected equals more interactions. Lots more interactions. Substantially more powerful networks. People have always been attracted to cities, even when they were disease filled death traps.

                I wonder how many more generations physical proximity will even matter. I play first person shooter games, and meet groups of friends every day on various virtual planets and cities to form cooperative and competing teams. I’ve never met any of my virtual friends (nor anyone in the LoOG). I can easily imagine my grandson – who has grown up entering and leaving these virtual worlds – finding no problem working with others in a virtual environment.

                What happens when the winning location becomes a virtual location?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Roger
                Ignored
                says:

                What happens when the winning location becomes a virtual location?

                All yer bases are belong to us, of course.

                You correctly point out how humankind has sorted itself out since antiquity. There’s always a specialist. But his skills are best utilised in the context of a team. Teams can’t grow too large or they become unwieldy, hence the need for coordination and some order of battle, defined by the problem at hand.

                As you say, until now, cities have always been where specialists go to ply their wares and form teams. It’s the old Gesellschaft and Gemeinschaft debate.

                My old man did his Master’s thesis on the spread of the news of Lincoln’s death through the Confederacy. The packet steamers had just gotten back into service. It took well over a month for the news to reach certain quarters. He did another paper on how vernacular English changed with the advent of radio: entire dialects died away.

                I believe physical proximity will always matter, and for all the wrong reasons. Had a friend of mine try to do remote work out of a cabin up north of here in Winter, Wisconsin. He ended up driving to Minn/St Paul, flying to Vegas every week, just to keep up the place. A completely unworkable solution. He now lives in St. Louis, just another commuter. For some reason, corporations insist on watching employees come in the door and sit in a chair only to fire up a terminal and ssh into a box four thousand miles away. Meanwhile, the same IT manager who insists on everyone arriving at 0830 loudly praises the virtues of Cloud Computing.

                It’s absurd. It’s bad for business, to add three hours of commuting to everyone’s day. I’m tired of being that guy. I simply won’t do it any more. Woke up on an aircraft once and had to look in my pocket for my boarding pass to work out if I was on my way to Chicago or Atlanta.

                I once worked on a phone switch for Wu-Han in China. This was many years ago, when modern telephones were just coming into China. Phone switches are set up with concentrators: if everyone picked up the phone at once, only a certain fraction would get service. So we finished it, shipped it, installed it, only to find the switch was instantly and constantly clogged with calls which went on for hours.

                Turns out the Chinese would send someone to the marketplace, he’d call up the head office and simply stay on the line all day long. The authorities had to put up billboards “Hang up the phone please, you can always make another call when you need to.” The old paradigm had been a human messenger, running back and forth from marketplace to HQ, relaying every order.

                That’s the problem we face in America. We’ve evolved as far as the telephone. We’re starting to cope with the implications of the Internet as it becomes a two-way mechanism, which it always was, but that’s not how it emerged in practice. We need to convince the boneheads in the Executive Suite, maybe put up some billboards “Commuting wastes your employees’ time and your money. Just stop it.”Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                Your dad sounds as fascinating as you.

                In studying the history of technology, it is enlightening to see how some technologies need proper institutional learning to take off. I suspect virtual work places are one such case.

                The kids that run around Bespin Cloud City shooting while talking to each other can just as easily use the exact same technology to sit down around the conference table and work together. When our kids enter the executive suite, it will never occur to them that it must be physical.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                Well, exactly. Future generations will laugh at us, more likely curse us, as they tear down all these office parks we’ve built and tear up those monstrous parking lots which serviced them. The very idea, that three full generations of dumbasses sat alone in their cars, burning up all that petroleum, so they could sit in a conference room and look at PowerPoints and summarise the TPM reports.

                There will be travellers in the world, the people who build out the infrastructure which will largely eliminate the need to commute.Report

              • Avatar Mr. Blue in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                If you’re driving in Houston and moving at walking speed, you’re not doing it right.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Mr. Blue
                Ignored
                says:

                I see. I’m not doing it right. Crawling eastbound along that act of unlubricated sodomy called the north side of Sam Houston at 0800, trying to get a flight out of Bush Intl. well, I guess that was just my imagination.Report

              • Avatar Mr. Blue in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                No, not your imagination. I saw congestion like you wouldn’t believe when I had the JV-Spring commute. Doing it right is knowing how not to be on Beltway 8 at 8 in the morning . Since you’re a traveler, I shouldn’t criticize since it took me a long-ass time to learn navigation myself. The ones I really don’t understand are the ones that live here forever and never learn how to break out a damn map.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                Getting in and out of IAH is a nightmare, especially to the rental car lots, doesn’t matter how you make your approach to it. It was at IAH where I finally decided flying just wasn’t worth it any more. Flew up one more time, drove back. Problem solved.Report

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