- The problem of policing and local public economics Peter Boettke, Coordination Problem
- The deep roots—and new offshoots—of ‘Abolish the Police’ (no libertarians mentioned) Ruairí Arrieta-Kenna, Politico
- Where are the libertarians on police brutality? JD Tuccille, Reason
- Intersectionality and classical liberalism Jacob Levy, Cato Unbound
I recently picked up “Governing the Commons” by Elinor Ostrom from the library. The main message from the first chapter to me was that individuals can overcome the dilemma of overusing common pool resources through institutionalized individual cooperation. Ironically, the condition of the relatively new book (which is from a public library btw) tells me otherwise. These are not my notes by the way.
That’s it. That’s the blogpost. 😉
Sometimes, I feel that some authors simply evolve separately from all those who might be critical of their opinions. I feel that this hurts the discipline of economics since it is better to confront potentially discomforting opinions. And discomforting opinions are never found in intellectually homogeneous groups. However, a recent paper in the American Economic Review by Alan Blinder and Mark Watson suffers exactly from this issue.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the article is highly interesting and provides numerous factoids worth considering when debating economic policy and politics. Basically, the article considers the differences in economic performance under different presidents (and their party affiliation). Overall, it seems that Democrats have a slight edge – but in large part because of “luck” (roughly speaking).
However, no where in the list of references do we find an article to the public choice theory literature. And its not as if that field had nothing to say. There are tons of papers on policy decisions and the form of government. In the AER paper, this can be best seen when Blinder and Watson ask if it was Congress, instead of the president, that caused the differences in performance. That is a correct robustness check, but it is still a mis-specification. There is a strong literature on “divided government” in the field of public choice.
In the case of the United States, this would be presidents and congresses (or even different chambers of congress) of different party affiliation. Generally, government spending is found to grow much more slowly (even relative to GDP) when congress and the White House are held by different parties. Why not extend that conclusion to economic growth? I would not be surprised that lagged values of divided government (mixed partisanships in t minus one) would have a positive on non-lagged growth rates (growth in t-zero).
Now, this criticism is not sufficient to render uninteresting the Blinder-Watson paper. However, it shows that some points fall flat when two fields fail to link together. Public choice theory, in spite of the wide fame of James Buchanan (Nobel 1986), Gordon Tullock and affiliates (or off-spawns) like Elinor Ostrom (Nobel 2009), is still clearly unknown to some in the mainstream.
And that is a disappointment…
From the economist Camilla Toulmin:
While land registration is often proposed as a means of resolving disputes, the introduction of central registration systems may actually exacerbate them. Elite groups may seek to assert claims over land which was not theirs under customary law, leaving local people to find that the land they thought was theirs has been registered to someone else. The high costs of registration, in money, time, and transport, make smallholders particularly vulnerable to this.
You can read the rest of her article here [ungated version can be found here]. It goes on to elaborate upon how more decentralization is needed, as well as the need for more incorporation of indigenous legal practices. Highly recommended, but grab a cup of coffee first.
Arguments to ponder:
- James Buchanan’s work on public choice (elite groups seeking to capture the rent)
- Friedrich Hayek’s work on tacit knowledge and the inability to plan societies from the top
- Elinor Ostrom’s work on governing the commons and how states muddle the intricate “rules of the game”
Any thoughts? Suggestions for further reading?