John Cochrane, in a series of interesting observations on State Capacity Libertarianism, notes:
I don’t see just why nuclear power needs “state support,” rather than a clear workable set of safety regulations that are not excuses for anyone to stop any project.
Apart from the fact that our government created nuclear power at great expense and hurry, I would most of all cite the Price-Anderson Nuclear Indemnities Act of 1957 Here is Wikipedia:
The Act establishes a no fault insurance-type system in which the first approximately $12.6 billion (as of 2011) is industry-funded as described in the Act. Any claims above the $12.6 billion would be covered by a Congressional mandate to retroactively increase nuclear utility liability or would be covered by the federal government. At the time of the Act’s passing, it was considered necessary as an incentive for the private production of nuclear power — this was because electric utilities viewed the available liability coverage (only $60 million) as inadequate.
I am less clear on where the insurance industry stands on this matter today, but in general American society has become far more litigious, and it is much harder to build things, and risk-aversion and infrastructure-aversion have risen dramatically. Furthermore:
- Jurisdiction is automatically transferred to federal courts no matter where the accident occurred.
- All claims from the same incident are consolidated into one Federal court, which is responsible for prioritizing payouts and sharing funds equitably should there be a shortfall.
- Companies are expressly forbidden to defend any action for damages on the grounds that an incident was not their fault.
- An open-ended time limit is applied, which allows claimants three years to file a claim starting from the time they discover damage.
- Individuals are not allowed to claim punitive damages against companies.
So the odds are that without a Price-Anderson Act America’s nuclear industry would have shut down some time ago, with no real chance of a return.
More generally, I am not sure which level or kind of liability should be associated with “the free market,” especially when the risks in question are small, arguably ambiguous, but in the negative scenarios involve very very high costs. Which is then “the market formula”? That question does not make much sense to me, so it seems to me that, details of the Price-Anderson Act aside, all scenarios are by definition somewhat governmental.
M.B. Malabu, travel grant to come to the D.C. area for helping in setting up a market-oriented think tank in Nigeria.
Nolan Gray, urban planner from NYC, to be in residence at Mercatus and write a book on YIMBY, Against Zoning.
One other, not yet ready to be announced. But a good one.
Here are previous MR posts on Emergent Ventures.
Having tracked the libertarian “movement” for much of my life, I believe it is now pretty much hollowed out, at least in terms of flow. One branch split off into Ron Paul-ism and less savory alt right directions, and another, more establishment branch remains out there in force but not really commanding new adherents. For one thing, it doesn’t seem that old-style libertarianism can solve or even very well address a number of major problems, most significantly climate change. For another, smart people are on the internet, and the internet seems to encourage synthetic and eclectic views, at least among the smart and curious. Unlike the mass culture of the 1970s, it does not tend to breed “capital L Libertarianism.” On top of all that, the out-migration from narrowly libertarian views has been severe, most of all from educated women.
There is also the word “classical liberal,” but what is “classical” supposed to mean that is not question-begging? The classical liberalism of its time focused on 19th century problems — appropriate for the 19th century of course — but from WWII onwards it has been a very different ballgame.
Along the way, I believe the smart classical liberals and libertarians have, as if guided by an invisible hand, evolved into a view that I dub with the entirely non-sticky name of State Capacity Libertarianism. I define State Capacity Libertarianism in terms of a number of propositions:
1. Markets and capitalism are very powerful, give them their due.
2. Earlier in history, a strong state was necessary to back the formation of capitalism and also to protect individual rights (do read Koyama and Johnson on state capacity). Strong states remain necessary to maintain and extend capitalism and markets. This includes keeping China at bay abroad and keeping elections free from foreign interference, as well as developing effective laws and regulations for intangible capital, intellectual property, and the new world of the internet. (If you’ve read my other works, you will know this is not a call for massive regulation of Big Tech.)
3. A strong state is distinct from a very large or tyrannical state. A good strong state should see the maintenance and extension of capitalism as one of its primary duties, in many cases its #1 duty.
4. Rapid increases in state capacity can be very dangerous (earlier Japan, Germany), but high levels of state capacity are not inherently tyrannical. Denmark should in fact have a smaller government, but it is still one of the freer and more secure places in the world, at least for Danish citizens albeit not for everybody.
5. Many of the failures of today’s America are failures of excess regulation, but many others are failures of state capacity. Our governments cannot address climate change, much improve K-12 education, fix traffic congestion, or improve the quality of their discretionary spending. Much of our physical infrastructure is stagnant or declining in quality. I favor much more immigration, nonetheless I think our government needs clear standards for who cannot get in, who will be forced to leave, and a workable court system to back all that up and today we do not have that either.
Those problems require state capacity — albeit to boost markets — in a way that classical libertarianism is poorly suited to deal with. Furthermore, libertarianism is parasitic upon State Capacity Libertarianism to some degree. For instance, even if you favor education privatization, in the shorter run we still need to make the current system much better. That would even make privatization easier, if that is your goal.
6. I will cite again the philosophical framework of my book Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals.
7. The fundamental growth experience of recent decades has been the rise of capitalism, markets, and high living standards in East Asia, and State Capacity Libertarianism has no problem or embarrassment in endorsing those developments. It remains the case that such progress (or better) could have been made with more markets and less government. Still, state capacity had to grow in those countries and indeed it did. Public health improvements are another major success story of our time, and those have relied heavily on state capacity — let’s just admit it.
8. The major problem areas of our time have been Africa and South Asia. They are both lacking in markets and also in state capacity.
9. State Capacity Libertarians are more likely to have positive views of infrastructure, science subsidies, nuclear power (requires state support!), and space programs than are mainstream libertarians or modern Democrats. Modern Democrats often claim to favor those items, and sincerely in my view, but de facto they are very willing to sacrifice them for redistribution, egalitarian and fairness concerns, mood affiliation, and serving traditional Democratic interest groups. For instance, modern Democrats have run New York for some time now, and they’ve done a terrible job building and fixing things. Nor are Democrats doing much to boost nuclear power as a partial solution to climate change, if anything the contrary.
10. State Capacity Libertarianism has no problem endorsing higher quality government and governance, whereas traditional libertarianism is more likely to embrace or at least be wishy-washy toward small, corrupt regimes, due to some of the residual liberties they leave behind.
11. State Capacity Libertarianism is not non-interventionist in foreign policy, as it believes in strong alliances with other relatively free nations, when feasible. That said, the usual libertarian “problems of intervention because government makes a lot of mistakes” bar still should be applied to specific military actions. But the alliances can be hugely beneficial, as illustrated by much of 20th century foreign policy and today much of Asia — which still relies on Pax Americana.
It is interesting to contrast State Capacity Libertarianism to liberaltarianism, another offshoot of libertarianism. On most substantive issues, the liberaltarians might be very close to State Capacity Libertarians. But emphasis and focus really matter, and I would offer this (partial) list of differences:
a. The liberaltarian starts by assuring “the left” that they favor lots of government transfer programs. The State Capacity Libertarian recognizes that demands of mercy are never ending, that economic growth can benefit people more than transfers, and, within the governmental sphere, it is willing to emphasize an analytical, “cold-hearted” comparison between government discretionary spending and transfer spending. Discretionary spending might well win out at many margins.
b. The “polarizing Left” is explicitly opposed to a lot of capitalism, and de facto standing in opposition to state capacity, due to the polarization, which tends to thwart problem-solving. The polarizing Left is thus a bigger villain for State Capacity Libertarianism than it is for liberaltarianism. For the liberaltarians, temporary alliances with the polarizing Left are possible because both oppose Trump and other bad elements of the right wing. It is easy — maybe too easy — to market liberaltarianism to the Left as a critique and revision of libertarians and conservatives.
c. Liberaltarian Will Wilkinson made the mistake of expressing enthusiasm for Elizabeth Warren. It is hard to imagine a State Capacity Libertarian making this same mistake, since so much of Warren’s energy is directed toward tearing down American business. Ban fracking? Really? Send money to Russia, Saudi Arabia, lose American jobs, and make climate change worse, all at the same time? Nope.
d. State Capacity Libertarianism is more likely to make a mistake of say endorsing high-speed rail from LA to Sf (if indeed that is a mistake), and decrying the ability of U.S. governments to get such a thing done. “Which mistakes they are most likely to commit” is an underrated way of assessing political philosophies.
You will note the influence of Peter Thiel on State Capacity Libertarianism, though I have never heard him frame the issues in this way.
Furthermore, “which ideas survive well in internet debate” has been an important filter on the evolution of the doctrine. That point is under-discussed, for all sorts of issues, and it may get a blog post of its own.
Here is my earlier essay on the paradox of libertarianism, relevant for background.
Happy New Year everyone!
I had an excellent time in this one, here is the audio and transcript. Here is the opening summary:
Abhijit joined Tyler to discuss his unique approach to economics, including thoughts on premature deindustrialization, the intrinsic weakness of any charter city, where the best classical Indian music is being made today, why he prefers making Indian sweets to French sweets, the influence of English intellectual life in India, the history behind Bengali leftism, the best Indian regional cuisine, why experimental economics is underrated, the reforms he’d make to traditional graduate economics training, how his mother’s passion inspires his research, how many consumer loyalty programs he’s joined, and more.
Yes there was plenty of economics, but I feel like excerpting this bit:
COWEN: Why does Kolkata have the best sweet shops in India?
BANERJEE: It’s a bit circular because, of course, I tend to believe Kolkata has —
COWEN: So do I, however, and I have no loyalty per se.
BANERJEE: I think largely because Kolkata actually also — which is less known — has absolutely amazing food. In general, the food is amazing. Relative to the rest of India, Kolkata had a very large middle class with a fair amount of surplus and who were willing to spend money on. I think there were caste and other reasons why restaurants didn’t flourish. It’s not an accident that a lot of Indian restaurants were born out of truck stops. These are called dhabas.
BANERJEE: Caste has a lot to do with it. But sweets are just too difficult to make at home, even though lots of people used to make some of them. And I think there was some line that was just permitted that you can have sweets made out of — in these specific places, made by these castes.
There’s all kinds of conversations about this in the early-to-mid 19th century on what you can eat out, what is eating out, what can you buy in a shop, et cetera. I think in the late 19th century you see that, basically, sweet shops actually provide not just sweets, but for travelers, you can actually eat a lunch there for 50 cents, even now, an excellent lunch. They’re some savories and a sweet — maybe for 40 rupees, you get all of that.
And it was actually the core mechanism for reconciling Brahminical cultures of different kinds with a certain amount of social mobility. People came from outside. They were working in Kolkata. Kolkata was a big city in India. All the immigrants came. What would they eat? I think a lot of these sweet shops were a place where you actually don’t just get sweets — you get savories as well. And savories are excellent.
In Kolkata, if you go out for the day, the safest place to eat is in a sweet shop. It’s always freshly made savories available. You eat the freshly made savories, and you get some sweets at the end.
COWEN: Are higher wage rates bad for the highest-quality sweets? Because rich countries don’t seem to have them.
BANERJEE: Oh no, rich countries have fabulous sweets. I mean, at France —
COWEN: Not like in Kolkata.
BANERJEE: France has fabulous sweets. I think the US is exceptional in the quality of the . . . let me say, the fact that you don’t get actually excellent sweets in most places —
And this on music:
BANERJEE: Well, I think Bengal was never the place for vocal. As a real, I would say a real addict of vocal Indian classical music, I would say Bengal is not, never the center of . . . If you look at the list of the top performers in vocal Indian classical music, no one really is a Bengali.
In instrumental, Bengal was always very strong. Right now, one of the best vocalists in India is a man who lives in Kolkata. His name is Rashid Khan. He’s absolutely fabulous in my view, maybe the best. On a good day, he’s the best that there is. He’s not a Bengali. He’s from Bihar, I think, and he comes and settles in Kolkata. I think a Hindi speaker by birth, other than a Bengali. So I don’t think Bengal ever had top vocalists.
It had top instrumentalists, and Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan, Nikhil Banerjee — these were all Bengali instrumentalists. Even now, I would say the best instrumentalists, a lot of them are either Bengali or a few of them are second . . . Vilayat Khan and Imrat Khan were the two great non-Bengali instrumentalists of that period, I would say, of the strings especially. And they both settled in Kolkata, so that their children grew up in Kolkata.
And the other great instrumentalists are these Kolkata-born. They went to the same high school as I did. There were these Kolkata-born, not of Bengali families, but from very much the same culture. So I think Kolkata still is the place which produces the best instrumentalists — sitarists, sarod players, et cetera.
COWEN: Why is the better vocal music so often from the South?
Definitely recommended, Abhijit was scintillating throughout.
Check out the new NBER paper by Joseph Grourko, Jonathan Hartley, and Jacob Krimmel:
We report results from a new survey of local residential land use regulatory regimes for over 2,450 primarily suburban communities across the U.S. The most highly regulated markets are on the two coasts, with the San Francisco and New York City metropolitan areas being the most highly regulated according to our metric. Comparing our new data to that from a previous survey finds that the housing bust associated with the Great Recession did not lead any major market that previously was highly regulated to reverse course and deregulate to any significant extent. Moreover, regulation in most large coastal markets increased over time.
One embedded lesson is that the number of veto points over new construction is increasing. And “By our metric, about one half of all communities in the Regulation Change index increased regulation, one-third decreased, while only 18 percent showed no net change.”
Here is a graph of housing affordability vs. their index of restrictiveness:
Here is my earlier Bloomberg column calling for more indices — this is exactly what I wanted.
Here is a fantastic Politico essay by Marc J. Dunkelman, telling the whole story of Penn Station, new and old, and how it came to pass that New York finds it so difficult to construct new infrastructure. Here is one short excerpt from a much longer story:
Since the mid-1960s—really since the opening of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge connecting Brooklyn to Staten Island—no major new piece of public infrastructure has been built within the five boroughs of New York City.
And toward the end:
For anyone convinced that government is an indispensable tool in the progressive mission to improve peoples’ lives, Penn Station is a monument to conservatism. If public officials can’t even clear the way for a serviceable facility at the nation’s busiest transit hub, why give them any more authority?
Recommended. By the way, Madison Square Garden is now a dump and should be rebuilt from scratch, somewhere else of course.
S&P Global: Four Republican lawmakers have authored new legislation to permit drugs for critically ill patients to enter the market before completing late-stage trials, saying the bill was necessary because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s regulatory process was too slow and burdensome.
The bill would create a time-limited conditional approval pathway in the U.S. similar to a system that has long been used by European regulators.
…The conditional approval would be valid for one year and could be renewed annually for up to five years….Companies would be required to meet certain obligations, like completing clinical investigations to provide full demonstration of safety and effectiveness and other studies.
…Companies could seek full U.S. approval at any time. The FDA would be required to let manufacturers include in their applications the real-world evidence they collected during the conditional approval period.
The lawmakers want the FDA to be able to grant the limited marketing authorization to new drugs that have successfully completed phase 1 and 2 trials, with the idea that companies could generate revenue to help fund their phase 3 studies.
They emphasized their legislation is targeted especially at small biopharmaceutical companies that may struggle to cover the costs of late-stage trials.
Under the dual-track approval system, companies would be able to sell pharmaceuticals earlier but would be required to track outcomes so greater real world information would be developed in the FDA process. The result is a more dynamic approval process better suited to modern medicine. The idea is due to the excellent Bartley J. Madden (note my bias).
Madden and Nobel-prize winner Vernon Smith explained the dual-track idea, noting:
Today’s world of accelerating medical advancements is ushering in an age of personalized medicine in which patients’ unique genetic makeup and biomarkers will increasingly lead to customized therapies in which samples are inherently small. This calls for a fast-learning, adaptable FTCM environment for generating new data. In sharp contrast, the status quo FDA environment provides a yes/no approval decision based on statistical tests for an average patient, i.e., a one-size-fits-all drug approval process.
A similar process has been adopted in Japan for regenerative medicine.
Pronomos Capital, which [Patri] Friedman incorporated in August, is supposed to bankroll the construction of experimental cities on vacant tracts of land in developing countries. Pronomos is set up like a venture fund, making investments in local organizations that do the work of securing government approvals, finding tenants, and hiring retired U.K. judges to enforce the new legal framework, to be based on British common law. The firm says it’s discussing semi-autonomous cities of varying sizes with foreign and local businesspeople in countries where officials have seemed receptive to exempting them from area laws, including Ghana, Honduras, the Marshall Islands, Nigeria, and Panama. A given community could start as small as an industrial park, Friedman says. Most will be aimed at foreign businesses seeking friendlier tax treatment…
The venture firm has raised about $9 million so far (more than half from Thiel), well short of Friedman’s initial goal. He says that’s only enough to cover basic fact-finding expenses for his local partners, and he’ll raise more to buy and develop land once governments approve the plans.
Here is more from Lizette Chapman at Bloomberg, interesting throughout.
Brussels has been striving to secure the deal for six years, as it seeks to prove it has the negotiating muscle to broker meaningful agreements with Beijing that can defend European companies from unfair competition.
The European Commission and the bloc’s foreign policy chief signalled a tougher approach to China in March in a landmark document that branded it a “systemic rival” in some areas — an allegation Beijing denies. Ms Weyand, the chief official working for Phil Hogan, the EU’s trade commissioner, said that “we are moving at a snail’s pace on the investment agreement”.
That is from the FT., and of course that hardly counts as much progress. Elsewhere you will see Paul Krugman suggesting Trump has lost the trade war, but I don’t think he comes close to even seeing what the trade war with China is about. No matter what Trump says, the trade war is not about lowering the trade deficit. It is about (for a start) two major considerations: a) ensuring that national security-motivated partial economic decoupling takes place on terms not so unfriendly to America, and b) giving America levers to make sure China does not make such significant inroads into the world’s tech infrastructure, most notably with 5G but not only.
The stipulation of Chinese purchases of American exports, which probably they will not and cannot meet, is in fact a lever to give the United States enforcement power over the less tangible parts of agreement, which is indeed most of the agreement. We want China to be in default of the agreement terms, so we may threaten them with tariffs to enforce compliance elsewhere, and so that is a better rather than worse outcome for the United States.
On the trade war, agnosticism is still the correct opinion, at least so far, as we are not even sure we know of the full agreement, or if America and China are visualizing signing literally different versions of the “same” agreement. And even once (or if) the full text(s) is revealed, we still won’t for some while know how either a) or b) are going, much less relative to the relevant counterfactuals.
In general, I am finding that commentary on the trade war is of relatively dubious value, in part for partisan reasons. The key here is to set aside your political views, and spend a lot of time talking with national security people.
Rather it is kludgy free trade we are getting these days, as I argue in my latest Bloomberg column. Here are a few scattered excerpts:
When it comes to China, the WTO structures were already being jerry-rigged. If anything, you could say that the point of the new trade regime is to make the jerry-rigging more transparent.
In fact, it is hard to see how trade relations with China could be anything but jerry-rigged. The Chinese economy is simply too different, and far more statist, than those of the economically developed Western nations or Japan. And yet China is now the world’s No. 2 economy and largest exporter.
The more important technology becomes to the U.S. and global economies, the more issues such as data storage and access will move to the forefront. Can the Chinese government demand that a technology company hand over user data? On whose servers do the data need to be stored? Can national storage be treated as a prerequisite for market entry? Again, the right answers cannot help but be complicated.
It is well-known in economics that exporting services is much more difficult than exporting resources or manufactured goods. It then follows that trade law for services will be messier and kludgier as well. Trade arrangements for services may feel ugly and excessively bureaucratic, but the underlying reality is that the principles of free trade are being extended, not repudiated.
At a larger scale, what to think of the first phase of the U.S.-China trade agreement? It is still difficult to divine the entire agreement, or how much of it will be announced publicly. The real core of the deal may be an impossible demand on the Chinese to buy many additional billions of dollars of goods from the U.S., with the very impossibility of that demand serving as a cudgel for enforcing Chinese compliance with the less tangible, harder-to-measure aspects of trade relations.
In short, this new era of international trade certainly looks messier. But maybe that’s because the resources of simplicity have been all but exhausted. Free trade isn’t yet dead. It’s just not quite as free as it used to be.
He has done what no other conservative leader in the West has done: He has co-opted and thereby neutered the far right. The reactionary Brexit Party has all but collapsed since Boris took over. Anti-immigration fervor has calmed. The Tories have also moved back to the economic and social center under Johnson’s leadership. And there is a strategy to this. What Cummings and Johnson believe is that the E.U., far from being an engine for liberal progress, has, through its overreach and hubris, actually become a major cause of the rise of the far right across the Continent. By forcing many very different countries into one increasingly powerful Eurocratic rubric, the E.U. has spawned a nationalist reaction. From Germany and France to Hungary and Poland, the hardest right is gaining. Getting out of the E.U. is, Johnson and Cummings argue, a way to counter and disarm this nationalism and to transform it into a more benign patriotism. Only the Johnson Tories have grasped this, and the Johnson strategy is one every other major democracy should examine.
Here is more by Andrew Sullivan, interesting throughout.
Some hotel guests wake so rested at luxury properties that they purchase the same kind of mattress they slept on. Then there are those patrons who steal them.
At least 48 mattresses have disappeared from guest rooms in the more than 1,100 four- and five-star European hotels surveyed by German review site Wellness Heaven. Guests at five-star hotels were 8% more likely to take mattresses, perhaps because they were more comfy, according to the survey.
That’s far less than the nearly 900 towels or 753 bathrobes that hotels say went missing. Hangers, pens, cutlery, cosmetics and blankets were among the other most commonly lifted items. Personal electronics and small appliances, including tablet computers, hair dryers, coffee makers and TV sets were also reported missing from hotel rooms across the properties.
…He [Keilmann] estimates that roughly $60 million worth of mattresses are lifted from hotels worldwide each year.
Here is the full story, and it seems you can get away with such thefts because the hotels are reluctant to report them and get the police involved. (By the way, might some of those mattresses be the famous German Schlafsacks?)
For the pointer I thank the excellent Michael Rosenwald.
The new agreement requires at least 70 percent of an automaker’s steel and aluminum to be bought in North America, which could help boost United States metal production. And 40 to 45 percent of a car’s content must be made by workers earning an average wage of $16 an hour. That $16 floor is an effort to force auto companies to either raise low wages in Mexico or hire more workers in the United States and Canada, an outcome Democrats have long supported.
It also rolls back a special system of arbitration for corporations that the Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has criticized as allowing companies to bypass the American legal system and Trump administration officials describe as an incentive for companies to send their factories abroad.
The pact also includes, at least on paper, provisions that aim to do away with sham Mexican labor unions that have done little to help workers by requiring every company in Mexico to seek worker approval of collective bargaining agreements by secret ballot in the next four years.
That is from a week ago, supposedly the actual deal with be somewhat more interventionist and anti-trade than that. Here is more from Ana Swanson and Emily Cochrane of the NYT.
It was quite something, the proceedings did not disappoint, here is the YouTube:
I can’t fully access video from this airport location, but I believe the actual debate starts at around 1:06. After the debate proper, a particular highlight is the four video questions that were taped and sent in from humanities academics.
The Holberg people put on a great event.