Promoting Limited Government and More Informed Decision Making

Thanks so much to Ilya for his generous post on Accelerating Democracy. I see Ilya’s and my projects not as antagonistic but essentially complementary.

I share Ilya’s belief that more limited government is likely better government. I thus expect that that by providing more accurate information about policy results, more people will move over time to recognize the virtues of markets and limited government over centralized regulation in most instances. Ilya argues that limiting government will help citizens better update on information about policy by restricting the range of government programs to which they must pay attention. We may have a virtuous circle here.

I would also note that one of the most important recommendation in both our books is similar—the promotion of federalism in particular and decentralization in general. Decentralization can simultaneously promote experimentation and foot voting. Empiricists evaluate the results of policy through analysis but so do citizens by moving jurisdictions.

More generally we both want the political process to rely more on the market. Ilya focuses on federalism as a market for governance. I focus on information markets as a tool for guiding governance. Both build structures of governance on Hayek’s great insight that information is dispersed among many people.

I also agree with Ilya that because of rational ignorance in politics that information will make far less difference in people’s political decisions than in their personal decisions. That is a good argument for limited government and Ilya develops it superbly in his forthcoming book, Democracy and Political Ignorance . But precisely how limited government should be depends on the dangers of externalities that markets and other means of voluntary coordination cannot address. The costs and benefits of limitations are themselves empirical questions that may change depending on the technology of the time.

I think any differences between Ilya and me may lie in our assessments of the potential benefits of new information technologies and the threats government may need to address. I believe that changes in information technology can be beneficial to making government better in the long run: as Tocqueville saw, for instance, the printing press was indispensable to democracy on a large scale. And given the potentially substantial but not wholly known threats from technological acceleration that may require collective action to forestall, I confess to being less sure than I was a decade to two ago about exactly how limited government should be. As a result, I have become more sympathetic to testing my strong priors even on this subject.