My Conversation with Garett Jones

Here is the transcript and audio, here is part of the opening summary:

Garett joined Tyler to discuss his book 10% Less Democracy, including why America shouldn’t be run by bondholders, what single reform would most effectively achieve more limited democracy, how markets shape cognitive skills, the three important P’s of the repeated prisoner’s dilemma, why French cuisine is still underrated, Buchanan vs. Tullock, Larry David vs. Seinfeld, the biggest mistake in Twitter macroeconomics, the biggest challenges facing the Mormon church, what studying to be a sommelier taught him about economics, the Garett Jones vision of America, and more.

Here is one bit:

COWEN: But let’s say it’s the early 1990s. Eastern European countries are suddenly becoming free, and they ask you, “Garett, what electoral system should we have?” What do you say?

JONES: What I really would go for is presidential systems, if you can handle it, something like a first-past-the-post system, where those people elected from local districts focused on local problems — which have less of a free-rider problem involved — go up to the parliament and actually argue their case. The presidential element is less important than the parliamentary idea of the single-district voting. I tend to think that creates more accountability on the part of the government.

And more:

COWEN: For the United States, what is the most effective way, in your view, that you would want us to have 10 percent less democracy? What’s the one thing you would change?

JONES: I would change the House of Representatives to a six-year term. I picked that because it’s not outside the range of plausibility, and because I think people would instantly understand what it accomplishes — not because it has the highest payoff, but because it balances payoff with plausibility in a democracy.

And on boosting IQ:

COWEN: But what’s the key environmental lever? Whatever Ireland did [to have induced an IQ rise], it’s not that people were starving, right? That we understand.

JONES: No, true.

COWEN: So why don’t we do more of whatever they did, whatever was done to the East Germans, everywhere?

JONES: Exactly.

COWEN: But what is that lever? Why don’t we know?

JONES: I would say that thing is the thing we call capitalism.

COWEN: Capitalism is a big, huge thing. Not all of capitalism makes us smarter.

JONES: Yeah, that’s the thing — figuring out which things within capitalism — what is it about living in a free society with competitive markets where, at least in our youth and middle age, we feel a need to sell ourselves as valuable creators. There’s something about that that probably is what’s most valuable for boosting cognitive skills. It’s a sort of demand-side desire to try to use our minds in socially productive ways. And I think in communism, we can —

COWEN: So marketing makes us smarter?

JONES: That’s what I would say, yeah.

There is much more at the link, an excellent Conversation.  Here you can order Garett’s book 10% Less Democracy: Why You Should Trust the Elites a Little More and the Masses a Little Less.  You can read the introduction to the book on-line.


The East Germans, actually the German Democratic Republic, achieved their IQ increase through pharmaceuticals, as they did their athletic prowess.

Good point but how many were doped athletes? Ten percent? Incidentally they also selected the most promising young athletes based on biology/morphology etc for special training. No equality of outcomes there, comrade. It was all about smashing the West.

About 100%, or whatever proportion of the skills that would benefit.

Luckily for the Eat Germans, they are now even smarter, after 30 years of the best capitalism has to offer - marketing.

Well, the East Germans. Though who knows, maybe a marketing campaign focusing on 'Eat Germans' might make everyone smarter too.

You clearly did not either listen to the podcast or read the transcript. The IQ gain came ten years after reunification. Sports doping had nothing to do with this and the types of drugs used by the East German sports authority have never been linked to intelligence gain.

I'm working my was, slowly, through Hive Mind now. It's an excellent book. I'll be ready to comment on 10% Less Democracy in 2024. ;)

Probably both

The fixation in this neighborhood with collective IQ is truly bizarre, especially in view of the fact that there is no such thing.

Maybe you should read a book on the topic first.

What do you mean no such thing? An iodine deficiency causes significant cognitive impairment. When they mandated the addition of iodine to salt it boosted the IQs by 20 points in areas where iodine deficiency was endemic.

I did a double take at this:

"But if you look, say, at the cities that have more or less maximized land value — Manhattan, maybe San Francisco, Dubai city-state, Singapore city-state, London — they seem really extremely well run."

Singapore I'll give you, but the others range from dubious to obviously wrong. I live in San Francisco, and I love it and there are many good things about it, but well-run is one thing it is definitely not. Unless you have a very different definition of "well run" from what most people would.

He said they "seem" well run.

In other words, nobody at the New York Times ever says they are very poorly run, so everything "seems" really great to him.

"JONES: I would change the House of Representatives to a six-year term. I picked that because it’s not outside the range of plausibility"

It would require a Constitutional amendment, so it would not be a trivial exercise, but I think you could convince American's that a member of the House would be more effective if they weren't spending 6 months of every 2 years running for office. On the other hand, they would also be less responsive, the whole less democratic aspect. Overall, it would still be a tough sale.

Solid points.

The easiest solution would be for the parties to scrap the primary system. Requires no laws at all, let alone constitutional amendments.

Just back room deals?

However they wish to.

I’m not seeing the logic of a system where the most idiotic and extreme 20% of the population chooses the two nominees for President.

You could convince some Americans, but not the smart ones, because it is a deeply stupid idea.

Occasional-thinkers like Garett want you to believe that elections are a pointless waste of time for our superiors; it's galling that we subject them to these things, where they have to act like the approval of voters has any value. They should be left alone to tell us how to live, and we should be thanking them -- not irritating them with questions.

It's hard work showing up every once in awhile and voting exactly how Nancy tells you to. It involves intricacies we could never understand. We all need to just shut up and let them do it for 6-8-10 years at a time. And be grateful!!

Actually, Brazil's system (four-year terms for Representatives and eight-year terms for Senators) is probably superior.

As evidenced by the strong economic growth and monetary and social stability of Brazil.

You might convince them of that, but it would seem you might then find the counterargument would be that it would be better to impose more limits on campaigning activity, cutting it down to 1 month, and letting the record mostly speak for itself, and leave term limits mostly unchanged.

'10% less democracy', or 70-80% less electoral activity?

Similarly, "COWEN: Should we elect prosecutors?", Jones: No, "... because the short-run incentives — it’s those campaign ads where the person brags about how many people they convicted. "

Again this is problems with how elections and campaigns are regulated, not really a problem with unqualified, direct accountability to majorities.

A good first step, but we'll know we're really making progress when books with titles like "100% less democracy" start being published.

Trump already has a ghost writer hard at work on the "!00% less democracy" title.

[I]f there is no existence of the issue, if you’re talking about folks who are 0.003 percent of the population, then it’s much harder to create a broad social movement, worrying about that problem.

This is world-class trolling.

"It’s a sort of demand-side desire to try to use our minds in socially productive ways."

What you interpreted as marketing scanned as "build a better mousetrap" to me. Jarring.

Capitalism =/= competition

I stopped listening at about the 30 minute mark having heard nothing new and some things that are clearly stupid such as the six year term for House members just to cite one. The advantage of two year terms is that the House can flip when something unpopular is going on. Were Professor Jones's recommendation in place in 2018, the House would likely still be controlled by the Republicans and there would not have been any oversight of the Trump Administration.

CWT podcasts should not involve any colleagues from GMU as they tend to be the weakest ones IMO.

in 2018, the House would likely still be controlled by the Republicans and there would not have been any oversight of the Trump Administration.

There still is no oversight. The Democratic Party does not engage in oversight, just in skeevy con games.

Alan, I agree. This podcast was like watching Michael Jordan play one-on-one with my mother.

French fetish with the Irish could be that they were simply not colonised by french. Pomme de terre, anyone?

Easy to say "Presidential system". In Poland was impossible because of Wałęsa. Everyone else was afraid of him and was against giving him too much power.

We already have less democracy: the combination of a constitutional system that gives disproportionate power to small states and a Supreme Court equating money with rights and unwilling to restrain a political party, the Republican Party, from asserting its power to limit voting rights and to gerrymander Congressional districts. To complain about too much democracy is absurd. As for Congressional terms, it's true that the Founders were concerned about mob rule by politicians appealing to the worst instincts, but what we have is government by mob rule elected by politicians appealing to the worst instincts. When I read articles about James Buchanan lurking in the darkness while working to undermine policies that benefit the majority, I fear for those who traffic in conspiracies. But when I read books that are out in the open for all to see that promote a reduction in democracy, I fear for our country. Buchanan lives:


Liberals are terrified of the results of studying Public Choice like conservatives are terrified of the results of studying climatology. Incentives matter, let’s not try to wish away reality.

Also MBA programs aren’t about learning, they are about sorting (matching problem in Econ). It’s a way for firms to select only ambitious people who score 750+ on the GMAT and have already demonstrated career success.

Also, I’m an American.

Rayward, if your flu lasted for more than a week please see a physician. Please get yourself checked out, there are treatments available.

Also your relatives might benefit from Tamiflu generics (don’t give them money). Generics are at cost.

Be well dude. Zinc and Tamiflu generics.

Tamiflu is of extremely limited value - it might shorten how long you are sick by a half day if you take it right at the very beginning of infection.

The large amount of money spent a decade ago buying it and stockpiling it for a flu pandemic was basically a waste of money. A good lesson in making sure that all research data is made available when determining a drug's costs and benefits.

"the biggest challenges facing the Mormon church"

Is Mitt Romney?

Or plural marriage, which Utah the State is legalizing, reversing the banning of the Mormon church by a GOP Congress because Mormons practiced plural marriage, a case, that was heard by the GOP appointed Supreme Court in 1887 which rejected religious liberty claims the GOP makes constantly today, and wants the current GOP Supreme Court to embrace to establish a Chtistian theocracy in the US. Which "Chistian" theocracy is unclear, but it's not one that existed prior to 1950, and not Mormon.

Does anyone know how Tyler produces the transcripts? Thanks

We use an online transcription service (currently Rev) which is then proofed and enhanced with links by a freelance editor.

There is no Great Stagnation in transcription services! (This level of transcription didn't exist when Tyler wrote his book in 2009.)

Yes it did, at least anywhere that had a media ecosystem. Like all national capitals in rich countries.

No, not close to the sophistication of what CWT uses.

What sophistication? Rev is basically a network of human transcribers that are paid as little as possible of that 1 dollar a minute audio rate. And if you honestly think that transcription using a network of human transcribers sitting at a PC is new, then maybe you will be really impressed at something like the IN-USB-2 USB Foot Pedal by Infinity, because unlike the foot pedals from 1995 connected to a tape recorder, this modern sophisticated one uses USB without a tape record at all.

IN-USB-2 USB Foot Pedal by Infinity

OK, so you don't understand the advances in transcription over the past decade. The New York Times had a good article on this last year, "From Your Mouth to Your Screen, Transcribing Takes the Next Step"

* "Improvements in automatic speech transcription are beginning to have a significant impact on the workplace."

* "By capturing vast quantities of human speech, neural network programs can be trained to recognize spoken language with accuracy rates that in the best circumstances approach 95 percent. Coupled with the plunging cost of storing data, it is now possible to use human language in ways that were unthinkable just a few years ago."

Garrett: "But part of that is that they face some kind of global competition. Cities face huge competition for labor. And the extremely valuable freedom to leave means that a city can’t get rich by just telling its most productive workers, “You’re not allowed to go anywhere. You have to stay here.”

That seems like a bad take. For'ex, does London really face more competition for workers than lots of small towns across the UK?

It's a fact of urban geography that countries and nations can only support a certain number of agglomerations above a certain size threshold. The UK can probably only host one London.

So London has effective "lock in" on almost all culturally English (and Welsh and mostly Scottish) workers who want to live in a certain scaled urban area. It does not have to compete for them. Competition, offering things to workers, does not really explain London, then.

(London competes internationally to a certain degree for migrant workers, yes, but not really hugely, and they are not attracted by its quality of governance, but that it speaks English, is not very insular and offers them relatively high wages.)

But who does have to compete? Workers have to compete with each other for income to earn enough to live a decent lifestyle in London's density. This is a powerfully winnowing selective process, probably enough along with economies of scale to explain much of London's governance.

+1, those are some good points

You call it capitalism, I call it genetics

Jones: (A Presidential system) reduces the ability to say, “Oh, that wasn’t my fault; that was somebody else’s fault.” Having something that is a bit more like the organization of a modern corporation where you can say, “This is the person in charge, and if something went wrong, I take this person to task for this.”

I will leave it up to anon to go on a Trump rant at this point, but it seems like elected presidents can, at great length, blame things which are ostensibly their fault on the existence of an elected house, an impartial judiciary, a hostile media etc, and in bad, worst case scenarios, one-by-one, obtain extraordinary emergency powers to weaken those things.

A Presidential system, as one of its "checks and balances", places the executive somewhat at odds to the legislative and judiciary arms of government, and that allows the executive to (with some justification) attack them as frustrating his ability to do what was promised and should happen, in certain circumstances.

And you can take away those checks and balances, moving more power to the executive, but then you just get autocracy. And the best case scenario for autocracy is Singapore, where perhaps the best you can say is that it is perhaps not worse than would be expected for an urban society of 75% Han Chinese which is open to world trade and who are not otherwise doing crazy Communist things (I mean, I'd guess it's probably somewhat the worse in living standards as a result of its relative autocracy, but probably not vastly worse).

It seems maybe better to moderate this tendency have some degree of unity between the legislative and executive, as in parliamentary systems?

Or maybe not. But in any case "Presidents under presidential systems have nowhere to hide, when called to account" seems a little optimistic.

Returning the senate to appointment by the states would be a better option, IMO, no that it's some kind of silver bullet that solves all problems.

“Garrett Jones, another breathless champion of democracy, says of the IMF that ‘It’s a bit like the bondholders being a check on the voters rather than being a %100 alternative to voters.’ Well, it takes less than a second, straining credulity, to realize this “tough love” can lead to a flourishing people. Well, so much for the rabble.”
--N. Chomsky

I listened to this podcast and was utterly disappointed. Mr Jones did not come across well. I was particularly lost in his explanation on why FPTP (First Past the Post) is a superior model to PR (Proportional Representation). He then confused "method of election" with "method of governance". Mr Jones appeared more a visceral thinker - a "typical" American right-wing persona - rather than a principles-based empirical rationalist.

I was intrigued by the title and the concept, but the podcast was not enriching at all. Heavy weights only please :)

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