Robin Hanson on coercion and feedback

But the concept of coercion isn’t very central to my presumption. At a basic level, I embrace the usual economists’ market failure analysis, preferring interventions that fix large market failures, relative to obvious to-be-expected government failures.

But at a meta level, I care more about having good feedback/learning/innovation processes. The main reason that I tend to be wary of government intervention is that it more often creates processes with low levels of adaptation and innovation regarding technology and individual preferences. Yes, in principle dissatisfied voters can elect politicians who promise particular reforms. But voters have quite limited spotlights of attention and must navigate long chains of accountability to detect and induce real lasting gains.

Yes, low-government mechanisms often also have big problems with adaptation and innovation, especially when customers mainly care about signaling things like loyalty, conformity, wealth, etc. Even so, the track record I see, at least for now, is that these failures have been less severe than comparable government failures. In this case, the devil we know more does in fact tend to be better that the devil we know less.

So when I try to design better social institutions, and to support the proposals of others, I’m less focused than many on assuring zero government invention, or on minimizing “coercion” however conceived, and more concerned to ensure healthy competition overall.

Here is the full post.

Comments

So when I try to design better social institutions

That's one of the problems, overconfidents attempting to design social institutions.

Most successful business enterprises are intentional, are they not?

An individual business is not social institutions, it is just a node in a network of contracts.

Huh? Businesses are full of social institutions.

A business is far from a monolith - businesses over a certain size are a labyrinth of different departments, silos, facilities, and competing egos and politics. Building effective means of communication, cross-service, and feedback is such a monumental task that businesses bigger than a Mom'n'Pop have an entire group dedicated to improving processes and work environments! "Internal contract fixers" if that calibrates you better.

The largest businesses are functionally full governments internally.

Businesses fail. All the time. And no one dies. They disappear or are subsumed into another business. Government programs fail as well, but seldom disappear. If they fail spectacularly the get more funding, more resources to continue failing.

@derek - I think this is the thread winner. According to evolution, things progress towards a certain end, usually more efficient (Irish Red Elk aside) but the problem with most legislation is that it doesn't have a 'sunset provision' so it cannot be tested to see if it's really necessary. Thus Dr. Robin Hanson, who was quoted the other day in the WSJ for his 'cosmic filter' as to why there's no evidence of aliens yet, has too utopian a vision for this topic. Better to let the marketplace decide all matters, including health, safety and antitrust matters. In the course of business evolution a business 'too big' or 'too small' or 'too dangerous' will die (especially after some of their customers die, don't laugh that's how both the FDA and the FAA operate btw, they typically await for non-Americans to first die before they act). But what about Jupiter's Red Spot I hear you say? Is this an example of dynamic unstable equilibrium that seemingly lasts forever? i would caution against drawing too hasty an analogy. I say bring back the Scarlet Woman of Wall Street! (another excellent book by John Steele Gordon)

Tag team trolling? "Nobody does" followed by "that's how both the FDA and the FAA operate btw, they typically await for non-Americans to first".

Or perhaps simple obliviousness.

(And an earthquake!)

You beat me to it.

Does anyone else see this as peak arrogance?

There is more under Heaven and Earth than is dreamt of in your economics.

Is this why they fear and loath free markets? Free markets are not susceptible to their arrogant experiments, nor to coercion, nor to force.

> Does anyone else see this as peak arrogance?

No. I see it as peak wisdom.

Hanson is not against free markets nor is he for coercion. He is just pointing out that if you focus on "good feedback/learning/innovation processes" first then libertarian principles tend to follow. He is stating what his "North Star" is.

I am interest, and for my sake
Few men do the deeds they should,
Though deeds sans me are miracles
(Resource allocation or Pareto efficient outcomes, in which no party's situation can be improved without hurting that of another party)

Hanson did say ‘try’.

Students who successfully complete any well-taught economics course do not have their egos inflated with delusions that they can advise Leviathan to engineer improvements in society.

Ah, here it is appropriate to ask:

1) is Donald that guy?

2) does acquiescing to Donald really further that goal?

Because like, "sure we got a trade war, but the EPA doesn't believe in cancer anymore!"

Better quote "“I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters,” Mr. Obama told Patrick Gaspard, his political director, at the start of the 2008 campaign, according to The New Yorker. “I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m going to think I’m a better political director than my political director.” from someone significantly less deserving to be so egotistical.

1) that really is a non sequitur

2) it would really be nice to have a president who worked that hard again

After all those "better at" claims are of a different kind than a “very stable genius” who is “like, really smart” because “good genes.”

Oh to have hard work back again.

By the way, I think you kind of missed the focus on market interventions, and you focus on the more superficial "ego" angle.

Trump's focus on "making better deals" as president is the antithesis of free market capitalism.

Government, and I suppose most large monopolistic institutions, tends to function as a low-pass filter - big persistent signals eventually get through, small and rapid one not so much. The prompt response to small and rapid requirements (what we generally think of as good customer service), is not what you get with low-pass filter organizations.

Compare the large cable provider vs. the "we will make what you want" neighborhood restaurant where the owner knows the regular customers.

There are a few areas where the ability to apply massive coercion is more important than avoiding "bad customer service", but after national security it's a pretty short list. In general, 80/20 applies to government intervention; and we should be satisfied with the 80% solution. The current demand for perfection, micro aggressions, etc., is a game not worth the candle.

A big persistent signal today, for example, might be the monopolistic abuses of the social media giants. I think that's a good example of a market failure large enough to attract some regulation.

Social/internet media companies are natural monopolies since the optimal size of a social networking site or a search engine is the largest possible. However, there is no clear way in which government regulation can improve welfare.

For example, Facebook is a monopolist in social networking but its main good is customer information followed by advertising, both of which can be obtained in many different ways than through Facebook. So Facebook is not really a monopoly in the goods that it provides although it is a monopoly in social networking the users of facebook are not its customers.

About abuse? Well, if Facebook users do not like the fact that it is partisan and biased because it is a private website onwed by a young guy, then they are free to make their own site (such as Marginal Revolution).

"However, there is no clear way in which government regulation can improve welfare."

No lead in gasoline?

Melamine in nonfat milk?

Government is a special sort of player in society; its initiations of coercion differ from those of criminals. Its coercions are overt, institutionalized, openly rationalized, even supported by a large portion of the public. They are called intervention or restriction or regulation or taxation, rather than extortion, assault, theft, or trespass.

This too allows an entirely on topic reminder:

Trump jokes to Putin they should 'get rid' of journalists

It's almost enough to make one ask whether passive support for such things are really in the libertarian interest.

Or perhaps I am just elevating Straussian messages for you all.

on developing variation, there is the -2 problem. As a card player, there is a moment of a clemency of executive function, or the indecision between the dominant trait and the recessive, or from a macro standpoint, due process of the law and equal protection of the laws.
or With a copious hand the oaks will give us their sweetest fruit; the hard cork trees, their trunks as seats; the willows, their shade; the roses, their fragrance; the broad meadows, carpets of thousand shades and colors; the clear, pure air, our breath; the moon and stars, our light in spite of night’s darkness - DQ
vs
Within the book and volume of my brain - Hamlet

So when I try to design better social institutions, and to support the proposals of others, I’m less focused than many on assuring zero government invention, or on minimizing “coercion” however conceived, and more concerned to ensure healthy competition overall.

An excellent focus, but a tad better suited to 2009.

+1, Operibus crediite, et non verbis (though ye believe not me, believe the works)
Whose strength lies more in its truth than in cold digressions
And our horse wont halt his charge, nor look your mare in the face.

... so exactly what type of "coercion" is Robin Hanson comfortable with (?) -- surely he has no intent to personally & directly force other people to comply with his social designs?
Apparently he thinks coercion is some safe sterile process in society when applied by well meaning intellectuals.

But every government law & regulation, no matter how trivial, includes the possibility of violence and death in its ultimate enforcement.
Hanson thus advocates violent solutions to implement his social engineering -- for those persons who fail to accept his wisdom.

The fact that someone advocates limits to the power of the Federal Government doesn't mean that they don't favor coercion at the State or Local Level. The South had lots of local coercive laws and laws determined to keep competition out politically and economically, and the West had plenty of gun control laws or local coercive government/ private power monopolies. Bureaucracy is a sensible response to government being controlled by special interest groups, literally controlled.

Liberalism is concerned with limiting and dispersing power, in any form, throughout society. It's not about the size of government but of limiting the power of government, which generally means smaller government. The same holds for private power.

Most talk about the Founders and smaller government today is outright bullshit. For example, the Founders allowed for changes in the Constitution, through what's called the amendment process, and, believe it or not, there have actually been amendments to the Constitution. So, the Constitution is not immutable and was never intended to be, and anyone who wants to change it can do so provided the effort and support. and yet, I don't read anything about the amendment process nowadays. Instead, it's all about getting the right judges, by people claiming we have the wrong judges, and judges are the problem. You got to hand it to such a view, it solves the problem by continuing it, since, by definition, we are still going to have unelected judges interpreting the Constitution. Try the amendment process, that's how we doing things here.

We do not do amendments anymore because the new amendments are generally a thousand pages of micro regulations. So we skip it.

I agree, Matt, that it has to do with being hard to do, but not that we can't have an amendment that clearly defines an issue any longer. Abortion could just be a matter of declaring it illegal where it not for the fact that people advocating banning it can't get it done, and don't even try. I'd like to end gerrymandering, but I'd need an amendment. It's hilarious that a name synonymous with unfairness and corruption can't be changed, but there you have it.

'because the new amendments are generally a thousand pages of micro regulations'

You mean like this one?

'Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.'

No, it is the other 25 amendments you need to get the majority. It is not happening, wasting your time.

I provide the complete text of a current proposed amendment, and your response ends with 'wasting your time?'

But you are right, I am wasting my time positing out just how silly it is to talk about how 'new amendments are generally a thousand pages of micro regulation.'

Look at just your proposal, I can tell the various genders will want mention. If that happens, there are conditions everyone will want added.
Hopeless.

'Look at just your proposal'

The ERA is not my proposal, and personally I don't care about it in the least (after all, Congress already has full authority to mandate equal treatment under the law without regard to sex). However, it is a current proposal to amend the Constitution, so serves as an actual example.

'I can tell the various genders will want mention'

Who cares? Or is another example of hyperbole along the lines of 'a thousand pages of micro regulations.'

'there are conditions everyone will want added'

Who cares?

But what if we amended the amendment clause? See: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2010183

When I propose market structures I generally have the engineers automate it so no humans can get involved and screw it up. My first rule, no humans allowed except at the end points of distribution. Everything in between is market priced by bots.

In libertarian thought today, it seems like as the value of choice, variable approaches and "healthy competition" are often invoked when proposing the market decide over centralized, democratically accountable authority.

But when "big business" approaches a high degree of centralization of a market, the value of their economies of scale and central "accountability" and of increased regulatory compliance competence rested in a single private business are all instead touted (in "love letters").

Similarly, strong regulatory codes tend to be rejected when they are popular, built on electoral commitments and represent the public will... but popular among libertarian thinkers when they are presented as necessary to the success of growing very large business enterprises by extending their market, and are supported by large businesses. Even when these tend to increase costs to new entrants, entrench the status quo and restrict competition, variation and adaptation.

It's almost as if there isn't much interest in competition and variation in approach, and more interest in trying to make sure as much as possible is centralized in the hands of private ownership.

Comments for this post are closed