The Extractive Institutions in US
March 15, 2012 6:54 AM   Subscribe

Why Nations Fail - In a nutshell: "Proximately, prosperity is generated by investment and innovation, but these are acts of faith: investors and innovators must have credible reasons to think that, if successful, they will not be plundered by the powerful. For the polity to provide such reassurance, two conditions have to hold: power has to be centralised and the institutions of power have to be inclusive."
Their explanation is that if the institutions of power enable the elite to serve its own interest – a structure they term "extractive institutions" – the interests of the elite come to collide with, and prevail over, those of the mass of the population. So, if inclusive institutions are necessary, how do they come about? Again, Acemoglu and Robinson are radical. They argue that there is no natural process... Rather, it is only in the interest of the elite to cede power to inclusive institutions if confronted by something even worse, namely the prospect of revolution. The foundations of prosperity are political struggle against privilege.
also see...

Daron Acemoglu on Inequality - "When political power is very unequally distributed, it will inevitably be the case that those who have the political power will start using it to create a non-level playing field for themselves... money has started becoming much more important in politics. Politicians have become much more responsive to the wishes and the views and the voice of the very wealthy... by getting rid of regulation, by reducing their tax rates, by getting subsidies for their businesses and so on. That's the big picture. The finance industry is the best exhibit for that story... What's to blame are the institutions. We have let our institutions fail."

Francis Fukuyama on Governance - "I would argue that the quality of governance in the U.S. tends to be low precisely because of a continuing tradition of Jacksonian populism. Americans with their democratic roots generally do not trust elite bureaucrats to the extent that the French, Germans, British, or Japanese have in years past. This distrust leads to micromanagement by Congress through proliferating rules and complex, self-contradictory legislative mandates which make poor quality governance a self-fulfilling prophecy. The U.S. is thus caught in a low-level equilibrium trap, in which a hobbled bureaucracy validates everyone's view that the government can't do anything competently."

Matthew Yglesias on Rents - "I've come to think that we're more broadly transitioning into a rentier economy in which metaphorical intellectual property rents, literal land rents (which though not relevant for the purposes of the book also involve natural resources like oil and gas), and the quasi-rents associated with air pollution and too big to fail banking are immiserating both capital and labor."
posted by kliuless (78 comments total) 73 users marked this as a favorite

 
Your FPP paragraph pretty much sums up the problem Russia needs to solve at this point.
posted by spicynuts at 6:57 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 7:33 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Your FPP paragraph pretty much sums up the problem Russia needs to solve at this point.


way to miss the point, dude
posted by unSane at 7:34 AM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Part of the problem IMHO is that the US has too little representation. If you're some guy with a problem you're one of 709,760 people in a congressional district. If you live in California you need to compete with 37,691,912 people for one of your senators' attention.

While competition can increase prices to attract the attention of congresscritters you only need to buy a handful of the loud ones to exert a lot of undue influence on politics since there's only 435 of them in the first place.

Before you can even begin to solve the problem the number of congresscritters need to increase by at least an order of magnitude if not a factor of fifteen or even twenty. It'll make it cheaper for alternate candidates to run in elections and run a competitive campaign. Expand the senate too while you're at it. Maybe make it a 500 member senate so that the smallest states centre around 50,000 per senator.

I feel that unless we expand the pool and dilute the power held by each representative we're just going to be spot fixing campaign finance loopholes until the collapse of American society.
posted by Talez at 7:41 AM on March 15, 2012 [16 favorites]


Fukuyama: "Americans with their democratic roots generally do not trust elite bureaucrats to the extent that the French, Germans, British, or Japanese have in years past."

For the Japanese public, blind trust in the "elite" bureaucrats running the energy policies and governing the nuclear power industry in Japan led to TEPCO running amok with no oversight and Japan having the second worst nuclear disaster in the world with Fukushima Daiichi.

Damn right I don't trust "elite" bureaucrats.
posted by gen at 7:52 AM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


If you sit in a train and it starts moving, pretty much the only way you notice that you're moving once the initial lurch happens is that the scenery, perhaps a nice forest, is moving past you outside the window. But what if someone has fastened a simulacrum of the scenery up to the window so that it doesn't move past? Then you just get the little lurch, and everything seems the same. But you're moving, accelerating slowly enough that you probably wouldn't notice.

But then when the simulacrum of the forest is removed from your window, suddenly you notice that you're somewhere completely different, perhaps a wasteland of mine tailings, and moving very very quickly and can't get off the train any more.

And what if the forest was our ideal version of American Society, and the simulacrum was the media representation of it, which is slowly falling away from the windows of our train as we hurtle further and further into the mine tailings of our klepto/plutocratic future?

How can you get off / stop / reverse the train?
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:55 AM on March 15, 2012 [13 favorites]


fleas on the dog, criticize the dog...
posted by ennui.bz at 8:00 AM on March 15, 2012


The reason we're fucked is because all our real problems are hard problems, and nobody cares about hard problems because, well, they're hard, and also because they're kinda depressing. You can't get elected by attacking hard problems; you'll put people to sleep or piss them off. You get elected by harping on wedge issues that gets peoples' blood running. Social issues; that's the shit people understand. Oh, and you can harp on taxes, too, because Joe Average knows all of jack shit about economics, but if you can shout "The gummint's taking your money!" enough times, he'll vote for you, because all he sees is the $300 being taken out of his paycheck and not all the millions and billions that aren't being taken out of the checks of the super-wealthy.

If America we're smaller, we'd have more cohesion. If it were less diverse, we'd have more cohesion. But since we're large and diverse, it's hard to get people to unite behind fixing the hard problems. It's entirely too easy to divide us, and the money-driven media only fans the flames.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:12 AM on March 15, 2012 [29 favorites]


(we're = were)
posted by Afroblanco at 8:13 AM on March 15, 2012




way to miss the point, dude


Well, I haven't read the article yet, so yeah....boo on me.
posted by spicynuts at 8:16 AM on March 15, 2012


Americans with their democratic roots generally do not trust elite bureaucrats to the extent that the French...

Try getting the French to accept a diet full of high-fructose corn syrup because that's convenient for the government and see how far you get.
posted by Segundus at 8:27 AM on March 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


If America we're smaller, we'd have more cohesion. If it were less diverse, we'd have more cohesion. But since we're large and diverse, it's hard to get people to unite behind fixing the hard problems.

It occurs to me that this is actually a pretty good argument for pursuing state-level, rather than Federal, solutions to hard problems. It's unfortunate that to many on the left, they so deeply associate that with "states rights" that it's apparently anathema.

I've often thought that a lot of the energy directed by progressives (conservatives already know this) at trying to implement change via the Federal government might be better spent at the state or even city levels. This gets around both a large part of the social-cohesion problem and also the representation ratio in the Federal legislature.

And as we've seen from things like CARB, what one state does can have effects outside its borders. Although other states, sadly, can't replicate CARB today because the auto companies got the Clean Air Act through, which among other sneaky things prevents states other than California from setting tougher standards than the weak-sauce Federal ones. (The lesson here is that if you wait for Washington, prepare to get screwed. But if you lead from the front, you can find yourself setting the pace for everyone else.)

The legislative gridlock in DC presents a great opportunity for state-level regulation, and for trying out various approaches to the "hard problems" that we're looking at. It doesn't seem remotely plausible that, as a nation of 300 million-plus people, we're going to get any sort of widespread agreement to try out innovative solutions. But on a state level, a lot more things are possible, and it's a lot easier to demonstrate the workability of a particular solution when you can point to an actual implementation, and show how it compares to another state that did things differently. That diversity of approaches is important, and it seems like it's probably the only way we'll be able to move forward.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:33 AM on March 15, 2012 [14 favorites]


don't have time to read this stuff right now, but John Robb was blogging a lot about this a few years back -- basically arguing that the best way to fight 3rd gen warfare was to not have to fight it in the first place, by building resilient nation-states from teh community upward. If I have time later I'll try to dig some of it up.
posted by lodurr at 8:33 AM on March 15, 2012


"...because Joe Average knows all of jack shit about economics..."

Joe is a friggin' idiot.

If only someone from an Ivy league school, big city newspaper or Washington think tank would carefully explain how economics work, he wouldn't be so dumb. If only Joe would listen.
posted by otto42 at 8:38 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


What nations have "failed" according to the authors?

Also, it seems that the cleanest case being made here is that investment requires protection of private property rights, not that investment requires mass democracy with a redistributive or regulatory bent. The great historical examples of industrialization certainly are characterized much more by a pre-existing or emergent commitment to protecting private property rights than they are characterized by a strong social democratic governing party with a high-marginal-tax-rate platform.
posted by MattD at 8:40 AM on March 15, 2012


The great historical examples of industrialization certainly are characterized much more by a pre-existing or emergent commitment to protecting private property rights

Communist countries industrialize too.

So, what do you mean?
posted by edguardo at 8:44 AM on March 15, 2012


MattD, that strikes me as a utilitarian argument in the sense that great historical examples of industrialization have raised the average standard of living at the coast of pain for many more. Also, you seem to presuppose that you have to retain the same mechanism for growth throughout time. I'm not sure why that would be a given, especially if one takes an ecological (i.e., more holistic) view versus an economic one.
posted by lodurr at 8:45 AM on March 15, 2012


edguardo, I thought about that myself -- the way I would answer is to point out that industrialization in, say, the Soviet Union was not and could not be isolated from industrialization in other nations. That it starts and is initially fostered in a regime where at least one class of individuals are able to claim and protect property rights.
posted by lodurr at 8:47 AM on March 15, 2012


Then what do you mean by property rights? Private property rights, where things like factories are owned by individuals?

Because if you include democratic ownership of the means of production as 'claiming and protecting property rights', well, uh, solidarity, comrade.
posted by edguardo at 8:50 AM on March 15, 2012


To make it clear, I'm not responding for MattD, so I'm not going to answer that. I was just explaining how I decided to understand what he'd written.
posted by lodurr at 8:53 AM on March 15, 2012


It occurs to me that this is actually a pretty good argument for pursuing state-level, rather than Federal, solutions to hard problems.

But then the states would become Laboratories of Democracy, and we wouldn't want that.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:56 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Arizona is more a meth lab of democracy at this point. And a shining example of why the states' rights idea is terrifying.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:00 AM on March 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


What nations have "failed" according to the authors?

Syria
Nepal [more]
Sierra Leone [even some more here]
Egypt & Uzbekistan [more here]

re: property rights, see simon johnson on The Koch Brothers, The Cato Institute, And Why Nations Fail (the third link)...
"Secure property rights" is a key term for the Cato Institute and others on the right of the American political spectrum – nothing could be more important to a libertarian. But Professors Acemoglu and Robinson trace the development of such property rights in detail to the spread of political rights across a broad cross-section of society, including to people who are not (or do not start their lives among) the well-to-do.

In historical terms, Professors Acemoglu and Robinson see the progressive era at the beginning of the 20th century, including the development of countervailing power for the government against powerful private business interests, as an essential part of what has gone right in the United States of America.

Many libertarians, on the contrary, feel that the country started to go off-track at exactly this moment – for example, some blame the 16th Amendment (introducing the federal income tax in 1913), while others point the finger at the rise of social insurance programs (culminating in Social Security in the 1930s).

Libertarians, such as those who work at the Cato Institute, do not like the state and do not trust the federal government. The Acemoglu-Robinson view is much more nuanced: states are often captured by powerful elites and very much used as a tool of oppression, but it is also possible for liberal democracies to develop in which the government not only helps people but behaves in a way that is conducive to widely shared economic prosperity...
Communist countries industrialize too.

also see gellner on industrialism (and nationalism): "If a centralized bureaucracy exemplifies the new Geist just as much as does the rational businessman, then clearly we are concerned with industrialism, rather than with capitalism as such."
posted by kliuless at 9:11 AM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think Ghostride the whip nailed it. Going down to the state level sounds good and I would be all for it except that the very same people who make DC a toxic political environment also exist at the state level. All you need to do is take a look at Alabama's legislative house and the immigration bill that was passed there. Look at the origins of that bill and the effect it has had on people.
posted by RedShrek at 9:13 AM on March 15, 2012


All you need to do is take a look at Alabama's legislative house and the immigration bill that was passed there.

This is circular. A lot of the reason why statehouses are so backwards is because no one but the most retrograde conservatives even pay attention.
posted by downing street memo at 9:16 AM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is circular.

Is it really? Merits of the implied argument aside, it seems to take the form of:

X has quality A
Y has quality A
Y made a bad decision
This bad decision was due to A

Therefore, X will make a bad decision.


I thought circular arguments were more like: "the Bible is true because the Bible is true".
posted by edguardo at 9:21 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, circular isn't the right term. It does seem to result from a feedback loop, though.
posted by lodurr at 9:24 AM on March 15, 2012


It is truly hilarious that the libertarian demand for personal property protection can only come about through a strong centralized government with the means and will to enforce property ownership.

Or guns.
Lots of guns.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:29 AM on March 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


hilarious indeed:

1. The government is evil.
2. Private property is sacrosanct.
3. Without the government, we can't defend our private property.

.'. The government is not evil.
posted by edguardo at 9:32 AM on March 15, 2012


way to miss the point, dude

Actually, Russia is exactly the kind of nation that Acemoglu and Robinson are talking about--with a powerfully centralized government but an essentially "extractive" one with extremely low levels of "buy in" from the populace at large.

You know, America certainly has its problems and problematic tendencies that need to be corrected, but there's something just weirdly disproportionate manifested in this thread. So many people seem almost to long for a narrative of decline that is wildly out of scale with the facts. I guess there's a kind of pleasure to found in thinking of oneself as standing on the barricades against the rising tides of chaos and despair, or at the very least to think of oneself as living at a crucial turning-point in the history of the nation--but where's the evidence? Name a large industrialized nation from any point in history that has been substantially freer or even substantially more prosperous than the United States is at the moment? What decade would you pick as the charmed one when everything was just wonderful in the US by comparison with which we're now so horribly fallen? The Reagan 80s? The Vietnam War/Watergate 60s/70s? Jim Crow 40s/50s? Or do we go further back? The Gilded Age, maybe? Those wonderful days when striking workmen we're being shot in the streets by hired armies of thugs?

If it's stupid to pretend that the US represents the best of all possible worlds and cannot possibly be improved, it's equally stupid--and, I think, harmful--to pretend that it's some uniquely damned and dysfunctional polity headed on an irreversible course of decline and decay. Neither position shows the least grasp of any broader understanding of human history.
posted by yoink at 9:34 AM on March 15, 2012 [27 favorites]


A large industrial nation which has been substantially freer than the United States?

Parts of Spain, if only for a few years.
posted by edguardo at 9:39 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


A large industrial nation which has been substantially freer than the United States?

Parts of Spain, if only for a few years.


Very free, aside from the forced labor camps, work certificates, and government files on individuals' personalities.

I'm not endorsing the US as an eternal bastion of freedom and democracy for all, because it's clearly not, but Republican Spain was no utopia, either.
posted by Copronymus at 9:58 AM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Part of the problem IMHO is that the US has too little representation. If you're some guy with a problem you're one of 709,760 people in a congressional district. If you live in California you need to compete with 37,691,912 people for one of your senators' attention.

True...

Before you can even begin to solve the problem the number of congresscritters need to increase by at least an order of magnitude if not a factor of fifteen or even twenty.

What? A Congress with 5000 people, all of whom want to make speeches and bring home bacon? ridiculous.

Originally, Senators were appointed by State legislatures rather than directly elected, and one benefit of this was that you could influence your senator via your local assembly member or state senator; another benefit was that federal senators were not required to whore themselves out in expensive public campaigns and so did not necessarily need to be rich.

Sanford Levinson, among other legal scholars, has also suggested that the composition of the senate should be adjusted to reflect population shifts and not to act as an affirmative action program for small states. So places like Hawaii, RI, Delaware, and Alaska would only have one senator, places like Texas, New York and California would have as many as five or ten.
posted by anigbrowl at 9:58 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


"I've come to think that we're more broadly transitioning into a rentier economy in which metaphorical intellectual property rents, literal land rents (which though not relevant for the purposes of the book also involve natural resources like oil and gas), and the quasi-rents associated with air pollution and too big to fail banking are immiserating both capital and labor."

Related:

Why were resources expunged from neo-classical economics? -- a very interesting blog post by Financial Times chief economics commentator Martin Wolf.
Something strange happened to economics about a century ago. In moving from classical to neo-classical economics — the dominant academic school today — economists expunged land — or natural resources. Neo-classical value theory — based on marginalism and subjective valuation — still makes a great deal of sense. Expunging natural resources from the way economists think about the world does not.

In classical economics, land, labour and capital were the three factors of production. With neo-classical economics, the standard production function had just two factors of production: capital and labour. Land — by which we mean the totality of natural resources — was then incorporated into capital.
He goes on to argue that the "idea that land and capital are the same thing is evidently ludicrous", advocates a land value tax, and concludes:
I can see the objection that natural resources are necessary for the operation of capital and labour. Thus, the distinction between land, labour and capital is hard to draw. I agree with this. But there are two responses: first, from the point of view of economics, resource scarcity may mean diminishing returns, which are economically important; second, some natural resources are not appropriable and can be treated as free (sunlight, for example), but others are indeed appropriable.

Thus, for both economic and political reasons, we should put natural resources into the heart of economics, thereby remedying a neoclassical mistake.
He also comments on the debate that followed in the comments section.
posted by Anything at 10:02 AM on March 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


It is truly hilarious that the libertarian demand for personal property protection can only come about through a strong centralized government with the means and will to enforce property ownership.

Premise fail. Libertarians want the right to defend their public property, not necessarily the defense thereof. I am not a libertarian, but your conception of that philosophy is completely inaccurate.
posted by anigbrowl at 10:02 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Arizona is more a meth lab of democracy at this point. And a shining example of why the states' rights idea is terrifying.

I don't see why this is terrifying. People are free (I'm talking legally; forget economically) to leave any state that they feel doesn't suits their needs and any state should be free to legislate themselves into economic and population obscurity based on whatever whack-ass ideology their legislature puts into practice. Ideally, this would be the free market at work. If a particular state's wonkery results in flourishing economics - hey, good on ya! If it results, as is more likely, in a ghost state, then the market has spoken and that's it. Not terrifying at all.
posted by spicynuts at 10:05 AM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Arizona is more a meth lab of democracy at this point. And a shining example of why the states' rights idea is terrifying.

Yeah, much more terrifying than a strong central government. Remember when Arizona invaded Iraq, or when they began conducting nationwide warrantless wiretaps?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 10:09 AM on March 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


I am not a libertarian, but your conception of that philosophy is completely inaccurate.

Actually, it seems to me to be a pretty accurate representation of what most self-identified Libertarians would like to practice. It's only when you get to the really fringe people that you get stuff like private police forces and the like -- mainstream libertarians want strong legal protection of property rights. That can only be enforced by some form of strong government force -- whether that force is rendered via a private police force or a public one, the authority to use the force still comes from the same place.
posted by lodurr at 10:10 AM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Parts of Spain, if only for a few years.

Yeah, but when you're reduced to picking parts of a country for very brief, unstable, emergency-ridden periods of history you're kind of proving my point. Leaving aside the vexed historical question of whether the Spanish communes were as "free" as their most ardent supporters maintain, you have the insurmountable problem that they clearly did not establish enduring institutions--so they leave unanswered the question of whether they present a rival model for a lasting social model.
posted by yoink at 10:11 AM on March 15, 2012


Sanford Levinson, among other legal scholars, has also suggested that the composition of the senate should be adjusted to reflect population shifts and not to act as an affirmative action program for small states. So places like Hawaii, RI, Delaware, and Alaska would only have one senator, places like Texas, New York and California would have as many as five or ten.

But as long as states have any sway as states -- e.g., via the electoral college -- this basically ammounts to negative action program for states.

Also, the idea that we'd get more democracy by having senators appointed by legislatures is ludicrous on its face. Basically all that would accomplish is to aggregate the opportunities for corruption into 50 discount graft warehouses.
posted by lodurr at 10:12 AM on March 15, 2012


A lot of the reason why statehouses are so backwards is because no one but the most retrograde conservatives even pay attention.

I don't think this is entirely true. Look at gay marriage for one example. If you go back a few years you had state attorneys general banding together on anti-trust actions and statehouses creating model legislation in a lot of areas.

But indisputably, statehouses are the focus today of the full force of institutions like ALEC -- using that same model legislation process, but with the law-writing task sold to major corporations at $10K a pop. The Citizens United ruling has opened an enormous money spigot, which is being aimed at state and local government as much as national. But most places don't have enough oversight, media or NGO, to lift the veil. Meanwhile, the economic conditions of the recession and ensuing joblessness crisis have primed the population to accept radical solutions in the name of "creating jobs".

We have 55,000 people in each of our state assembly districts. I just found out that school choice advocates -- who are raking in money from voucher programs -- spent half a million dollars in one assembly race last cycle, an amount almost unthinkable by the standards of just a few years ago. By comparison, not that long ago, each of our gubernatorial candidates "only" spent $1.5M apiece. This year, Scott Walker already has something like $12M, and total spending in the recall race -- now being scheduled for June -- is likely to go well over $100M. That's about $50 spent per likely voter, up from some $19 in the 2010 election that put Walker in office.
posted by dhartung at 10:14 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


But as long as states have any sway as states -- e.g., via the electoral college --

There is a perfectly straightforward remedy to the electoral college, and it doesn't need any constitutional amendment. Just have a sufficient number of the largest states agree to bind their delegates to the electoral college to vote for whomever receives the simple majority of votes nationwide and hey presto chango--no more ridiculous wag-the-dog nonsense of campaigns desperately tailoring their message to subsets of voters in small swing states. And, equally, suddenly every vote matters--even if you're a Democrat in California or a Republican in Alabama.
posted by yoink at 10:18 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just have a sufficient number of the largest states agree to bind their delegates to the electoral college to vote for whomever receives the simple majority of votes nationwide...

... thereby foregoing any hypothetical advantage they get from being states with large electoral vote counts....

I understand what you're saying -- but I would also like to point out that 'perfectly straightforward' remedies often require their participants to engage in behavior they see as against their interest. At that point, they stop being quite so straightforward.
posted by lodurr at 10:26 AM on March 15, 2012


"Actually, it seems to me to be a pretty accurate representation of what most self-identified Libertarians would like to practice. It's only when you get to the really fringe people that you get stuff like private police forces and the like -- mainstream libertarians want strong legal protection of property rights. That can only be enforced by some form of strong government force -- whether that force is rendered via a private police force or a public one, the authority to use the force still comes from the same place."
posted by lodurr at 10:10 AM on March 15 [+] [!]

Libertarians believe that property rights are inalienable. The right exists no matter what the law says. To the libertarian, the proper role of the government is to not make laws that will take the right away.
posted by otto42 at 10:36 AM on March 15, 2012


What benefit does Texas or California, e.g., obtain from having the largest electoral vote counts, exactly? Come the general election, the winner of their electoral votes is a foregone conclusion and the campaigns tend not to spend much time there (except to fundraise from wealthy donors). It's only when a state is swingy that it attracts the attention of campaigns and thus the press.
posted by Bromius at 10:41 AM on March 15, 2012


lodurr: "don't have time to read this stuff right now, but John Robb was blogging a lot about this a few years back -- basically arguing that the best way to fight 3rd gen warfare was to not have to fight it in the first place, by building resilient nation-states from teh community upward. If I have time later I'll try to dig some of it up."

He's still doing it - Global Guerillas and Resilient Communities. He's also got some wiki laying around somewhere, too, for the resilient community stuff...
posted by symbioid at 11:08 AM on March 15, 2012


otto42, that's an accurate representation of pure Libertarian philosophy. In practice, most of the people I've ever known who were active in politics and described themselves as Libertarians would recognize (as is the case) that rights don't mean sheeit without a means of enforcing them.

Whether you recognize that or not, I don't know. If you don't, then I'd humbly suggest you not try to assert many property rights around people who are accustomed to using force to get things that they want.
posted by lodurr at 11:26 AM on March 15, 2012


... thereby foregoing any hypothetical advantage they get from being states with large electoral vote counts....

Actually, no. They're only states with large electoral vote counts because they are states with large populations. Currently all the states with large populations barring Florida basically get ignored by Presidential candidates because it's a foregone conclusion how their electoral college votes will be apportioned. Make this change, and suddenly it really, really matters whether you get out the vote in California or New York--it no longer matters just that you're going to win, it matters that you win big. Large-population states will become the real battlegrounds of the election campaign under this arrangement--which also means that politicians will no longer be held hostage by rural voters (bye bye corn subsidies, for example)--instead, they will have to pursue policies designed to appeal to the American population as a whole. It would be a significant improvement of US democracy and it would be entirely in the interests of the voters in the largest states.
posted by yoink at 11:45 AM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


The key word there is "currently." That's currently true because of the current political makeup of those states. What happens when that's no longer the case?

My point being that when people are trying to hold onto advantages (and that's what politics is all about, especially now, here, in the US), they think about their potential advantages almost as much as they think about their real advantages. Counting their chickens in the egg, as it were.

If you can convince me that you can get an across the board conversion to popular vote representation for all our national offices, I'll be all ears. But until then, I see that solution as a non starter.
posted by lodurr at 11:52 AM on March 15, 2012


Of course, if Presidential elections did become all about running up the biggest margins in each party's home bases, it would cost the campaigns significantly more money to advertise. The NY/NJ and CA media markets are not cheap. Neither is Texas'. You get a lot more bang for your buck running ads in Iowa, Nevada and North Carolina.
posted by Bromius at 11:56 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


The key word there is "currently." That's currently true because of the current political makeup of those states. What happens when that's no longer the case?

I'm not sure you're understanding how this would work. It would always be the case that the imperative would be to get out as many people as possible to vote for you in order to become President. That means that, logically, your best possible payoff would be to direct your campaign to the largest possible markets and mobilize as many voters as possible. That means that you would preferentially target the largest states. It has nothing at all to do with their current political makeup.

The only "current" anomaly in what I was describing is the fact that a large state that happens to be "in play" (like Florida) now gets extra attention. Under a "winner takes all" voting system, all the large states would receive attention proportional to their populations. There would no longer be a state-by-state strategy--there would be a person-by-person strategy, and the most "persons" are to be found in the largest states.
posted by yoink at 12:01 PM on March 15, 2012


Of course, if Presidential elections did become all about running up the biggest margins in each party's home bases, it would cost the campaigns significantly more money to advertise. The NY/NJ and CA media markets are not cheap. Neither is Texas'. You get a lot more bang for your buck running ads in Iowa, Nevada and North Carolina.

Yes, but that only matters a damn because they have a disproportionate influence on the outcome of the election. Given that it would no longer matter more how the half-million people in Wyoming or the half million people in Vermont vote than it matters what the half million people in Sacramento think the whole concept of "bang for your buck" pretty much goes out the window. You're simply trying to get your message out to the American people as a whole--and there are more of those people in the most populous states than there are in the less-populous states, oddly enough.
posted by yoink at 12:05 PM on March 15, 2012


And I'm not sure you understand what I'm saying: You're not going to get people in the large states to support it. Nor, if Bromius's point is held, will you get the parties to support it.

The other "current" anomaly you're describing is exactly the inverse of the one you cite: NY is not in play, and so gets ignored. I don't know why you don't mention that because it would help your case.

I'm not concerned with the long term logic. I'm conerned with what the power interests will defend. And I think they'll defend the current system, and I'll add an additional reason: Because it's what they understand how to prosper in. The political system as its currently constructed is all about tricks. You're suggesting teh construction of a system where tricks don't work as well.
posted by lodurr at 12:06 PM on March 15, 2012


Acemoglu and Robinson are radical. They argue that there is no natural process... Rather, it is only in the interest of the elite to cede power to inclusive institutions if confronted by something even worse, namely the prospect of revolution. The foundations of prosperity are political struggle against privilege.

So they're Marxists who don't cite Marx?

That's okay I guess. He's dead after all.
posted by clarknova at 12:11 PM on March 15, 2012


The other "current" anomaly you're describing is exactly the inverse of the one you cite: NY is not in play, and so gets ignored. I don't know why you don't mention that because it would help your case.

Well, you're clearly not reading my comments very closely, because I cited NY as an example of a state, like California, that is currently not in play and that would become far more important if this reform were to go through.

I'm not concerned with the long term logic. I'm conerned with what the power interests will defend. And I think they'll defend the current system, and I'll add an additional reason: Because it's what they understand how to prosper in.

Eight states have already signed this into law, including California (last year). It's true that there is a certain amount of unthinking opposition to the idea (and in the small states there is a shrewd understanding of just how much influence they stand to lose if enough states sign on)--politicians in general think that any system that elected them must be the best and wisest ever devised. But in the large states the logic is irrefutable--electing the President by (de facto) popular vote is entirely in their interests, regardless of the current political make-up of the state.
posted by yoink at 12:24 PM on March 15, 2012


Well, if they're doing it, then I withdraw my case. I didn't realize it was actually happening. Obviously it's not what I'd expect. Probably I'm just too cynical for my country's good ;-).
posted by lodurr at 12:31 PM on March 15, 2012


Here's the website of the National Popular Vote initiative, by the way.
posted by yoink at 12:44 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Literally, how do nations collapse in a nutshell?
posted by humanfont at 12:46 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


-- mainstream libertarians want strong legal protection of property rights. That can only be enforced by some form of strong government force --

Mainstream libertarians are also comfortable with the idea of reasonable government regulation. Discussion of private police forces, roads etc., tend to be the province of academic theorists more than anyone else; nobody who advocates such things as serious policy proposals is taken seriously within the libertarian movement, never mind outside. The mainstream libertarians I've met, some of whom are public figures, are OK with a reasonably powerful federal government but would like more personal/executive accountability and less procedural red tape. Of course this partly because when a regulator obstructs their plans, they can act politically to vote that person out. That's the nature of politics and indeed democracy. But the idea that they hate all government is an absurd straw man. They hate inefficient government, and government can sometimes be very inefficient. Implementing high speed rail in California, for example, is never going to happen because there are so many procedural hurdles and local political actors that the administrative path through environmental review etc. etc. is so long that inflation makes budgeting impossible.

Now, some of the claims and obstructions to government or private action are clothed in complaints about disrespect for property rights. Does this mean some libertarians are hypocrites? Sure, and so are every other group of political actors I've ever encountered.

Also, the idea that we'd get more democracy by having senators appointed by legislatures is ludicrous on its face. Basically all that would accomplish is to aggregate the opportunities for corruption into 50 discount graft warehouses.

You know that that's how we used to do it originally, yes? So there are 50 different graft warehouses, but most people live a lot closer to their state capitol than they do to Washington, DC. It's a hell of a lot easier to get in touch with your state representative/senator than it is with your federal one, in most cases. Likewise, it's easier to influence your state legislature than it is to influence Congress. Simply dismissing it as a haven of graft comes off as self-fulfilling prophecy - if people won't deal with or work through their state legislatures, then is it any surprise that they're unresponsive?

In any case, I have yet to see an argument for why a house of representatives containing 5,000 or 10,000 people would be any better. If you're going to work with numbers like that then you might as well cut out all the debating and legislate via opinion poll.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:07 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know that that's how we used to do it originally, yes?

Why, yes, agnibrow, yes I do. But we stopped. I wonder why.

Personally, I don't think it's an accident that the people funding the movement to return to appointment of senators are mostly people who have a well-documented contempt for democratic process.
posted by lodurr at 1:13 PM on March 15, 2012


If you can convince me that you can get an across the board conversion to popular vote representation for all our national offices, I'll be all ears. But until then, I see that solution as a non starter.

It's called the national popular vote interstate compact and has already been enacted into law in several large states. Ideas that depend upon universal adoption for their success are pretty much guaranteed to remain as mere ideas. If you're not happy with an incremental approach, then politics ain't for you.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:15 PM on March 15, 2012


Seriously, you think that introducing an extra layer into the process of selecting representatives makes those representative more representative? By definition, it does not. You've got a big case to make to overcome the simple logic of the situation.

And I suggest you see my response to Yoink, above, before you keep banging on my door about the national popular vote interstate compact.

As far as the straw man that libertarians hate all goverment: RIght with you there. It's a straw man. That's why I never mentioned it.
posted by lodurr at 1:21 PM on March 15, 2012


The biggest danger with incremental approaches is when one of the increments leaves you vulnerable to the process getting hijacked in another direction. E.g., the incremental approach to the health care bill that omitted universal mandates and price controls has left us vulnerable to price spikes which pose the serious risk of derailing it before it ever gets off the ground.

So, no, I'm not opposed to incremental approaches; I'm just opposed to incremental approaches that I view as posing a high risk for co-option or derailment.
posted by lodurr at 1:24 PM on March 15, 2012


But we stopped. I wonder why.

Because we were trying to fix a problem. But guess what, it turns out that our solution also has flaws. Perhaps changes in other areas (like communications technology) which have occurred in the meantime offer an alternative solution to the original problem at lower cost than the one we adopted at the time. Politics is not like science or technology where we continually refine our solutions and progress moves only in one direction; were this the case, we would not have repealed prohibition. Rather, it's the process of responding to emergent needs using the available means. The composition and operation of the Senate has ended up being radically out of step with the demographics of the country, thanks to ~100 years of social and technological change in the latter.

Personally, I don't think it's an accident that the people funding the movement to return to appointment of senators are mostly people who have a well-documented contempt for democratic process.

You know, I really don't give a fuck that there are political actors out there who are putting their self-interest first in backing such proposals - because the political actors supporting the status quo are also putting their self-interest first. It happens that I think my long-term interest (as a non-politically-powerful individual) aligns with that of those who promote the idea of repeal even though my reasons for approving the idea differ from theirs. Some people may fund such a movement in the belief that state legislatures are cheaper to purchase than popular senatorial elections. I support the idea because I can get to my state legislature in about 3 hours by train, have been to both the assembly and senate chambers, and have met met most of the state politicians who represent me at various public events. By contrast, I've never seen any of my Congressional representatives in person, and I can appreciate that this has something to do with the fact that they're considerably busier and answerable to a considerably larger constituency.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:29 PM on March 15, 2012


You know, I really don't give a fuck that there are political actors out there who are putting their self-interest first in backing such proposals...

You should, because they're a great example of how that kind of a system can and most likely will be manipulated to control the legislature.

Idealism is a wonderful thing -- until it gets you conned.
posted by lodurr at 1:37 PM on March 15, 2012


... also, why are you citing technology as a solution in one moment, and missing it as a part of the solution in the next?
posted by lodurr at 1:38 PM on March 15, 2012


Seriously, you think that introducing an extra layer into the process of selecting representatives makes those representative more representative? By definition, it does not. You've got a big case to make to overcome the simple logic of the situation.

Untrue. Vote in a senate election, and you have 1/vp influence on the outcome, where vp is the voting population. Assume that both apportionment and electoral turnout for state legislature elections is identical to that for federal elections - ceteris parabus, essentially, because we can measure and control for the variations in each individual state. Now in state elections with a bicameral legislature, people can vote for representatives in both chambers, offering citizens up to 2/vp of influence on the selection of federal senators because they are not limited to a single ticket.

Of course, elected state representatives are not mechanistic accumulators that always express the preferences of their district's citizenry. They can be bought, and more cheaply at that. But they're also a good deal more accessible as described above, and the cost of buying a legislative majority within a state is quite likely higher than that of buying a single federal senator directly - if only because there are more rounds of negotiation required and more constituencies to be appeased.

And I suggest you see my response to Yoink, above, before you keep banging on my door about the national popular vote interstate compact.

I've seen it since, and my point about incrementalism stands.

As far as the straw man that libertarians hate all goverment: RIght with you there. It's a straw man. That's why I never mentioned it.

No, you just argued with my initial dismissal of it. I feel sure you can separate the comments that are directed specifically towards you as an individual from those that are directed towards a general audience and which are meant to express general points.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:42 PM on March 15, 2012


If I understand your math correctly, it's this:

If I vote directly for a senator, I get one vote in proportion to the population of my state -- 1/p, where p is the population.

If I vote for legislators, who vote for a senator, I get 2 votes in proprotion to the population of my state -- 2/p.

Is that what you're saying?

I ask, because it looks to me like for a case where the bicameral legislatures have an equal number of representatives (probably no cases like that, but it's simpler), I actually have 2/(2p), or 1/p.
posted by lodurr at 1:52 PM on March 15, 2012


You should, because they're a great example of how that kind of a system can and most likely will be manipulated to control the legislature.

You're begging the question; if selection returns to the legislatures, they're going to be under much greater scrutiny than they are at present. Americans spend far too much time complaining about the legislatures in other states and far too little time monitoring their own, in my view. This serves only to promote legislative capture by single-issue groups and voters. I try to stay out discussions about what's happening in this or that state legislature on the other side of the country because it's a waste of my time, and people within a state are almost invariably hostile to external popular pressure anyway, so making calls or writing letters about what's going on in a state that I have never even visited is, if anything, going to make a bad situation worse because my communication will be rooted in ignorance of local conditions.

... also, why are you citing technology as a solution in one moment, and missing it as a part of the solution in the next?

I'm not missing it. Facility of transport or communication does not expand the number of hours in the day or the number of individuals that a senator can be personally responsive towards. A state legislator is virtually guaranteed a response to his/her communication - not necessarily a favorable one, of course - and doubly so if that legislator has a role in senatorial appointment; in turn, I can solicit the political attentions of that legislator with far greater ease than I can those of a federal representative. If I am deeply dissatisfied with my legislative representation, the threat or effort to campaign against someone at the next election is far more meaningful at the state level than the federal. The benefits are significantly higher than the costs.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:54 PM on March 15, 2012


Also, I tried to be pretty precise about what I disagreed with. I argued that most libertarians do believe that there should be strong legal protections, with enforcement provisions, for property rights. You countered with a statement about Libertarian ideals; I don't quarrel with your characterization of the ideal, but most people who self-identify as Libertarian don't think this through like you do.
posted by lodurr at 1:54 PM on March 15, 2012


... if selection returns to the legislatures, they're going to be under much greater scrutiny than they are at present.

Based on what I see in the world, that's an unwarranted assumption, and not one I'm willing to risk the future of the country on.
posted by lodurr at 1:55 PM on March 15, 2012


Up to 2/p - asymptotically, such that you will only approach this degree of influence rather than reaching it. You maximize your electoral influence by voting on a single issue that you care about above all else (in this case the selection of a federal senator) and to the extent that such selections are independent of party lines and to the extent that your districts are actually competitive - that is, to the extent to which the behavior of the legislative chambers is decorrelated. In practice this means that your 'edge' as a state voter will be much lower, perhaps only 1.2/vp or suchlike.

The reason is that you are voting in two separate races and the distributions are unlikely to be identical, even if they are held simultaneously, because we don't use a Party List system of voting. In staggered elections, even with a Party List, it can be analyzed like a large-scale Monty Hall problem.

This might be easier to envision if you consider the possibility of nonpartisan federal senatorial appointments, similar to those in judicial elections. This is by no means a given, but nonpartisan contests are not all that rare either.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:06 PM on March 15, 2012


most people who self-identify as Libertarian don't think this through like you do.

I'd say the ones who are in a position to influence politics by leveraging wealth or academic reputation do think it through, at least those I have met or had personal audience with. They sincerely believe in the value of Lockean individual freedom just as many sincerely believe in the value of Jeffersonian democracy or Marxist socioeconomic theory, and in most cases are pragmatic enough to recognize that their beliefs have to compete with others. I'm personally more of a Burkean, which means I read conservative to a lot of people. There isn't a Whig party for me to be a member of nowadays, though.

[... if selection returns to the legislatures, they're going to be under much greater scrutiny than they are at present.] Based on what I see in the world, that's an unwarranted assumption, and not one I'm willing to risk the future of the country on.

Why? There's continual scrutiny of state legislatures now, and indeed I know more about more state legislatures than I ever wanted to because of the extent to which the internet has collapsed barriers to news transmission. Now, a US senator may not be a distant figure to people in a smaller state, but in California such a person is less accessible than the governor (there are two US senators, but they're both in DC 9 months of the year). I haven't gone out of my way to meet a US senator, but I haven't gone out of my way to meet state politicians either; they're just around more, and if I attend X number of politically-themed events a year I'm much more likely to encounter one and have an opportunity to make personal conversation.

Given the nature of modern electoral campaigns, I see very little risk in moving back towards legislative appointment of senators; popular election campaigning with rallies, soundbite commercials and robocalls is awful and frequently reduces the contest to a poll of name recognition. I would much rather that the path to my US senator ran through my city or country representatives in the state legislature.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:35 PM on March 15, 2012


– the interests of the elite come to collide with, and prevail over, those of the mass of the population.

Adam Smith said (or implied, my paraphrase): Aristocrats are Parasites.
posted by ovvl at 4:34 PM on March 15, 2012


Literally, how do nations collapse in a nutshell?

If you open up a nutshell, you see what looks like two tiny brains, joined in the middle. The more liberal brain gradually crumbles. The more authoritarian brain seems more stable, but it suddenly cracks apart...

(Sorry, but you literally got a metaphor here so far).
posted by ovvl at 5:55 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


@MattD
"The great historical examples of industrialization certainly are characterized much more by a pre-existing or emergent commitment to protecting private property rights than they are characterized by a strong social democratic governing party with a high-marginal-tax-rate platform."

The industrialization and growth rates of the China and the USSR (which accentually exceeded Chinas, guess how they were able to destroy the Germans) have nowhere been met. But never let actual facts interfere with your ideology and ideas.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 1:10 PM on March 16, 2012


The industrialization and growth rates of the China and the USSR ... have nowhere been met.

Considering the means, I'm not surprised. Still, there's something to be said for not being executed for failing to meet quota.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:25 PM on March 16, 2012


Zuccotti Park / Liberty Square is being re-occupied.
posted by Skygazer at 7:43 PM on March 17, 2012


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