If it fails, do less or more?

One of the key differences between private and public sectors is that in the private sector, failure is punished. If a product or company fails, resources shift away from it. In the public sector, unfortunately, the opposite seems to be the case. A program which solves its target problem will go away, while one which cleverly tackles an impossible problem or uses a poor strategy is guaranteed a long lifespan.

The private method is more scientific, because it views any project as an experiment, whose initial success or failure is a meaningful data point about whether the project is possible or worthwhile. The public method ignores the data generated by early trials (or even worse, gives them a reversed interpretation).

I'm at a Mercatus Center + IHS mini-conference today, and Brian Doherty gave a talk about the enduring legacy of Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman. Most of the talk was about the details, but his views on the future basically seemed to be that Rand & Friedman had significant cultural & academic impact, and so we should be optimistic and keep on trying those routes.

Yet I can't help but see a disconnect between the positive change in the cultural and academic climate, and the lack of change in outcome metrics like government spending as a percentage of GDP, pages in the Federal Register, or the government's Keynesian response to the recent financial crisis.

Now, one way to look at this disconnect is as progress - we've won part of the battle, now it's time to bring it home. Yet this perspective ignores the data generated by the results so far. Another way to look at the disconnect is as evidence that cultural and academic change may not work, and if we want results, we may need to try something else. This interpretation is scary because it suggests that the approach most natural to us may not be the most effective - but it is no less valid for of its unpleasantness.

I'm not arguing that we should completely ignore culture or academia - they are surely part of the answer, and perhaps even the ultimate solution. But I am deeply concerned that the freedom movement is almost completely invested in strategies that may have won mindshare, but have demonstrably failed to achieve our ends.

We need to decide: do we want to be like the public sector, throwing good money after bad, or like the private sector, nimbly switching strategies based on the evidence? At the very least, we should take seriously the idea that we might be fighting the wrong war - like the war of ideas instead of the war of concentrating power. And if that is a possibility, shouldn't we be putting more of our resources into new strategies, like the Free State Project, my own Seasteading Institute, or Agorism?

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This sounds like the

This sounds like the libertarian version of post-left anarchy. Excellent work, I am glad you guys realize action is now what is necessary.

No more "folk activism".

Sing that Structuralist

Sing that Structuralist gospel, brother Patri.

"We" probably won't and

"We" probably won't and probably shouldn't be doing anything, at least not in some collective "lets all unite" sense. Economic ignorance may still prevail in the public setting, but in their day to day lives people usually follow sound economics, and will naturally follow that which is most advantageous to themselves. Since greater economic freedom is by default the most advantageous for our welfare, and in a way that's notable on the day to day individual level, people naturally gravitate to the things that cause it and increase it each and every day. I'm not talking about voting, or some conscious ideologically motivated choices, I mean something much more basic and unconsciously freedom loving, which still ultimately benefits the whole worlds economic prospects. We're moving towards a freer world whether we like it or not, and technology only makes it easier and faster to do this.

A moment's reflection....

I vaguely recall an episode of Northern Exposure in which someone (Maggie? Joel? The new doctor?) discovers set pieces and props for an old play that was never performed, and decides to mount the production. Hollings quietly, and presciently, predicts disaster. The people who opt to live in Alaska are rugged individualists, he intones; they’re just not temperamentally suited for activities requiring protracted coordination.

I sense some people embrace libertarianism as an expression of an individual temperament that resists entanglements and commitments, no matter how voluntarily undertaken.

In contrast, I sense other people embrace libertarianism as a fairly dispassionate objection of (excessive?) state coercion. These libertarians have no particular aversion to commitments otherwise. They spend their days organizing political parties, the Free State movement, charter cities and seasteads – and feeling endless frustration with the rest of us.

I admire Patri Friedman; I don’t envy him.