If you don’t like the political system you’re living in, you can respond in any of three ways:
- Grumble and then ignore politics,
- Engage in deadweight activism, wait for the other party to get back in and gripe when things return to business as usual, or
- Criticize by creating.
Admittedly, I tend to default to 2. But increasingly, I’m starting to think that 3 is where the action is. After all, 3 is more ‘Silicon Valley.’ 2 is more ‘Washington, DC.’
Voting with your Boat?
A small group of libertarians created their own, floating vision of the future in California's Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta recently. It was, as organizers billed it, a little like Burning Man on the water — minus the giant, flaming effigy and with a fraction of the number of event-goers.
The festival was almost canceled due to insurance problems, but in true libertarian fashion, the would-be attendees created a do-it-yourself substitute in its stead.
The ... event, called Ephemerisle, was sponsored by The Seasteading Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to creating independent micro-nations in international waters.
Now that’s a non-profit with cajones. If they can pull it off, we might see some little Hong Kongs 200 miles off shore within a decade or two.
But one need not become an Old Salt to criticize by creating. You see, the idea has been that if government did it - i.e. formed a heavily tax-subsidized monopoly - then it would be tough for private entrepreneurs to compete. This phenomenon is known as crowdout. Increasingly, however, I’m starting to think that what I call “counter-crowdout” is possible. Here’s why:
First, government is pretty bad at everything it does. From the public schools to the DMV, the state as a provider is mediocre at best. This is because whether or not the bureaucratic heart is in the right place, the incentives in government are all wrong. And with taxed play money — i.e. no system of profit and loss — there is little need to be focused on customers. In a government monopoly, there is no need to change, adapt, reorganize, reward good performance, or encourage innovation. While there can be marginal improvements made in government-provided goods and services, these are usually spurred on either by popular outrage or competition from the private sector.
Nevertheless, I believe — and, admittedly, this only a hypothesis — that there is a point at which government cannot compete; a point at which it will fail to deliver the level of quality in some good or service also offered by the private sector, no matter how many resources they throw around (that is, if they leave us with enough of our own resources that we still can still afford private-sector alternatives). That's why I think it is possible to compete with 'free.'
Educational entrpreneurs, for example, are starting to introduce low-cost private schools that are draining brains from the mediocre (or worse) public schools. Once the technology is mature, we may see even more advancements as homeschool co-ops and distributed education platforms take off. The quality will go up and up. The prices will go down and down. The public school monolith will struggle and lumber on. But eventually, perhaps, it will either compete or die.
Criticize by Creating
So remember, every thing you do has an opportunity cost. That is, when ever you engage in either grumbling or activism, ask yourself if you should be criticizing by creating instead. If more people saw the world this way, we might get more people figuring out how to overcome the technical barriers to building livable platforms at sea, fighting poverty, or educating kids. If more people thought this way, we might eventually outcompete the government in virtually everything it tries to do.
Power to the people.