Fight The Fighters

My undergrad public choice class ended with a lecture on futarchy. (Bryan Caplan says he did something similar in grad Public Finance.)  I think I convinced most students that futarchy is promising and worth trying, first on a small scale, and mostly met their objections to their satisfaction.  But I didn’t perceive much enthusiasm.  As usual, people don’t go to the barricades for efficiency; they get passionate about fighting enemies.  If only more people would object violently to futarchy, maybe we could inspire more interest in it. But just getting most folks more of what they want, who can get excited about that?

But consider: passion about pacifism.  There have been times, when the world was divided into sides fighting vicious and deadly wars, that some folks took the side of stopping the fights.  They took the natural passion of fighting an enemy and channeled it into fighting the fighters. I’d like to get folks to similarly see the wasteful pointlessness of today’s political battles. Today we induce millions of people to make up mostly-random political opinions on hundreds of diverse complex policy topics they hardly understand, split into warring factions based on shared opinions, and then fight vicious political battles over which factions get to make the government implement their random opinions. I’d rather folks focused on generating meta-political-opinions, not about particular policies like wars or bank bailouts, but about what political processes best choose effective policies.

Some folks are concerned that the public will feel dissed by Vote on Values, Bet on Beliefs, in that their opinions would no longer be solicited, via voting, on how to get what they want; they’d only be asked about what they want.  While anyone could speak on how to get stuff, those contributions would face stiff penalties for inaccuracy (as well as rewards for accuracy). But rather than seeing this as disrespect, I’d like folks to see it as a mark of status:  high status folks tend more to just tell their underlings what they want, and to say less about how to do that.  Better quality household servants, or exectutive assistants, need less instruction on how to do their job.  You can more just say you want scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast at 8am, and they’ll figure out how to make it happen.

Similarly, nations where citizens can effectively control their government by just specifying a national welfare function, and tweaking it a bit periodically, should be higher status than nations where ordinary citizens must continually form opinions on the effectiveness of hundreds of rapidly changing policies. For example, many Californians, who every few months face another thick booklet of direct democracy initiatives, complain they shouldn’t have to wade through such detail; isn’t that the politicians’ job? If political servants can’t be trusted to choose well without heavy monitoring, well then yes voters are forced to monitor them. But people with access to more trustworthy servants should gain the benefits both of having to pay less attention to details, as of the respect owed those who achieve such efficiency.

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