Limiting government

There are very few people who are thinking and writing about the fact that we currently have no idea how to limit government.

America was founded on the idea that government would limit itself. Various branches would check each other and the States would check the various branches. States were racist, so they had to be stripped of their powers of checking, and you’re a racist if you want to bring them back. Regardless of what you think of this idea (personally, I think the idea of self-limitation is retarded), it’s not working anymore.

Patri Friedman would like to limit the government by making it easy for people to switch among governments. Mencius Moldbug has suggested limited government by using what I have described (somewhat sarcastically) as the free market method. The free market has selected joint-stock ownership with a CEO and a board of directors as the best method for running a large organization. The CEO is in charge, but the board and owners have the ability to exert control in certain circumstances.

Is anyone else seriously discussing this issue?

Arnold Kling has written about some sort of localism, in which people would do as much as they can to limit their use of government services. This idea is partly related, but I think it mostly misses the point.

Robin Hanson has written about prediction markets, but again I don’t really think they’re a serious way to limit government or to govern.

Everyone else seems to basically accept the self-limiting concept or else to believe that democracy limits government, despite evidence to the contrary.


11 Responses to Limiting government

  1. I think most people may have some aversion to “government” (like they do towards “big corporations”) but view the democratic solution to keeping governments in line as effective. And as long as there’s no ugly pictures on the nightly news, I don’t see that changing.

  2. Jehu says:

    I believe that bankruptcy and ensuing economic collapse is the only thing that’s actually going to work to limit the power and scope of USG.

  3. wm tanksley says:

    How about replacing the part of the tax that pays for government worker salaries with a random-selection draft, and the draftees replace the government employees?
    (Just brainstorming, really.)

  4. wm tanksley says:

    Oh, this just got published in Arxiv.Org — “Accidental Politicians: How Randomly Selected Legislators Can Improve Parliament Efficiency”

    Kinda vaguely fits with my government employee draftee program :-).


    • rightsaidfred says:

      Interesting, wm. I recall a science fiction story from the “70’s where all capital wealth of the country was evenly allocated to the population, with the result that one could live a simple life of leisure. A draft was used to fill most job slots.

      Foseti wrote, I think the idea of self-limitation is retarded. Care to elaborate? At some point limitation kicks in, self imposed or not. It seems more rational to look ahead and acknowledge some need.

      • wm tanksley says:

        I don’t recall the story — but it sounds like communism pure and simple. I’m only brainstorming for the gov’t, not all jobs and all capital. The goal would be to increase the number of cheap, short-term workers who have no incentive to perpetuate the system. Of course, other concerns apply :-).

        You’re assuming that any of this is rational in any way. We can TRY to impose self-limitations, but organisms always devise ways around them. External limitations last longer, until the limiter and the limitee form a single organism.

  5. My studies have indicated to my satisfaction (so far) that the only way to fix this thing is to systematically put a time limit on all government agencies offices departments and so on. Literally abolish entire organs of government (not branches, the agencies.) Each newcomer rips out what he does not think works. This severely depletes the inventory of old structure, and if the President does not deliver he is replaced, and the exercise repeated until someone gets in there who can deliver. I will be running for President in 2012 on that premise. Consider that you have established that it is effectively impossible to fire a government employee without insane amounts of delay. UNLESS his position is abolished. The question is if the President has authority to abolish entire departments? Since he can call for them to be established one would assume so– but one should never assume anything sane in USG’s organizational details.
    Foseti, feel free to email me (through Devin Finbar if you want anonymity). I am composing “The Friedlander Plan” now on what to do to reboot the economy– and an effective compact USG is kind of key to making that happen…

    • Foseti says:

      The financial reform bill abolished one of the financial regulatory agencies, but it required the other financial regulatory agencies to hire the old employees of the abolished agency.

  6. YR says:

    Someone should create an institution to study the practical ways of limiting government. Maybe get a whole lot of limited-government thinkers and put them into some kind of a holding tank.

  7. SkepticalCynical says:

    My impression is that Moldbug has pretty much given up on limited government, at least in the sense of imposing constraints on the sovereign. His take seems to be that a sovcorp will voluntarily limit its control in ways that maximize its economic return.

    Real world examples are mixed. Singapore sort of supports the notion, North Korea does not.

  8. Zimriel says:

    North Korea was founded as an acceptable compromise between the Maoists and the Stalinists, to buffer northern China and Vladivostok against the US satellite state in the South. It does not make a profit, not even for Korea’s nominal leaders really.

    If you’re looking for the counterweight to Moldbuggery and Singapore, you’re better off with bankrupt Dubai.

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