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The Road to Libertopia

July 15, 2011

Given a desire for a freer society, how do we get there? There are a wide number of approaches, not all mutually exclusive.

“The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas.” – Keynes

Public policy is a major obstacle to personal freedom, so policy advocacy seems like a straightforward way to increase freedom. By convincing the median voter that they should want more freedom, advocates of freedom hope that more libertarian candidates will be elected. It takes a lot of effort to convince enough people of your viewpoint to meaningfully shift the average voter for any lengthy period of time. One explanation of why so much effort goes into advocacy rather than other approaches is signaling. People want approval from those they admire, so they say things that people in their circle of sympathy agree with. People win the approval of their friends by repeating and reinforcing group norms. Since advocacy in general is a common human behavior, the marginal cost of changing from advocating one policy to another is fairly small.

Economists’ advocacy may be more powerful than the average person’s, since politicans’ views are more likely to correlate with the views of the upper class than those of the poor. Economists, by influencing the intellectuals of society, may influence the beliefs of the elite and thus effect policy more than the median voter hypothesis would suggest. Because democracy is imperfect, economists may be disproportionately influential.

The Scientific Advancement school of thought believes the best way to advance freedom is by researching its benefits. People don’t choose freedom because they don’t realize how effective it is at advancing other goals and improving the quality of life. By creating new research about the benefits of freedom, people in society will be convinced to support more pro-freedom policies. I think the evidence that free markets produce vastly more wealth for the average person is pretty much irrefutable at this point, so I don’t know how much more research will help. Perhaps on the margin, there are some issues that can be pushed one way or the other by additional research.

Competitive Governance
Governments are constrained in their abuses of power by exit and voice. Voice is useful in small organizations where one person has a chance of making a difference. As organizations grow, exit becomes the only viable way to impact them. Governments are not only large, but government agents are already maximizing subject to the institutional constraints they face. According to Patri Friedman, advocating freedom is unlikely to make much of an impact. Starting anew is far easier than confronting the corrupt current arrangements. Seasteading and Charter Cities are both viable options to increasing the number of governmental jurisdictions people can choose from. Not only do new jurisdictions improve the lives of people moving into them, they also increase the competitive pressure on existing governments to improve their policies. Advocates of competitive governance believe that the types of government that will win the competition for citizens will have high degrees of personal and economic freedom. At the very least, a variety of governments will allow those who desire more freedom to move to a place that grants it to them.

Perhaps the most radical approach, Bryan Caplan points out that political beliefs are fairly heritable, so libertarians should have as many kids as possible to out-breed the statists. Eventually, people with high desire for freedom will outnumber those with lower desire for freedom, resulting in a freer society.

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