Will Chamberlain – Thinking Structurally About Government

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Will Chamberlain’s talk at the second annual Seasteading Conference, “Thinking Structurally About Government”, is now available online:

“Everyone is frustrated with the fact that government never seems to work the way it should… that reform seems impossible.”

Will Chamberlain, research fellow for the Seasteading Institute and co-author of Let A Thousand Nations Bloom, asks the root question of modern governance, applicable to individuals around the world of every background and belief: why is there so much broad-based dissatisfaction with the way things are run?

Chamberlain presents his answer, and it is wholly non-partisan in nature — indeed, it can be seen as an emergent natural phenomenon irrespective of political system or cultural tradition. With the help of public choice theorists such as Mancur Olson, Chamberlain describes the environment of human activity that leads time and again to intransigent governments of all descriptions that incite their neglected citizenry to dissent and revolt.

In an environment that provides no internal or external pressures on government to stay competitive for citizens — in other words, to practice “good customer service” to prevent loss of citizenry — the ostensible stability of the system cascades into sclerosis. Special interest groups, once they are formed, are nearly impossible to break apart. The system develops more and more to serve the special interest groups, who in turn control the legislature. Reform then becomes impossible, as the laws reinforce the entrenched groups and disregard (or even criminalize) those who long for reform.

Revolution becomes the only recourse, but expecting any coup to happen in a peaceful and nondestructive way is a naive and highly unlikely outcome. The powerful tend to want to stay powerful; even if the power rests in abstract administrative groups rather than individuals, all entrenched entities are motivated by self-preservation. “Nobody ever gives up,” quips Chamberlain, echoing the observation that has been made of tyranny many times over since classical Greece.

In Chamberlain’s view, Seasteading has a real shot at solving these large, intractable government problems. Rather than a doctine of direct reform, of fixing what can’t be fixed, the multi-micro-nation “strategy” (if the emergent system resulting from many independent actors striving for their own benefit can be said to have one) embodied in unleashing thousands of new governments into the world, all with a far greater Power of Exit than afforded by a traditional nation, has the most probability of producing social structures subjected to enough competitive stress to exist in “bloodless instability”. In such a scenario, dynamic reorganization becomes necessary to stay competitive for citizens, inducing change in governments when and where needed, but without the danger and destructiveness of revolution.

Referring back to Mancur Olson in his first book, the Logic of Collective Action, Chamberlain observes that “smaller groups are more effective than larger groups”. Perhaps here is an advisory towards the future of seasteading, where it may be wise to resist agglomeration even when there may be gains in security and stability. Keeping tension between dynamism and stability will be key to the avoidance of a future in which seasteads could become sclerotic nations full of entrenched special interests just as the traditional land-based nations that came before them.

4 comments

  1. i_is_j_smith 10:17 pm

    I still don’t understand how the Power of Exit will be greater with a seastead than with a traditional nation.  The social and economic bonds are just as strong in both situations.

  2. i_is_j_smith 11:23 pm

    Also, look to enlightened absolutism as a cure for the power of special interest groups.  The reason special interest groups can impose their will on politicians is because those politicians need to get re-elected.  For that they need money.  If you have a permanent leader who does not have to answer to the shifting whims of the masses, and can instead do what is "best for the country" then the power those special interest groups has goes away.

    Of course you have to couple this with ease of exit so that people can "vote with their feet" and act as a check against the leader.

  3. nthmost 11:27 pm

    Enlightened dictatorship sounds excellent. I vote you set yourself up a seastead and go for it.

    For what my vote’s worth, anyway. :)

    –Naomi

  4. jhogan 1:42 am

    The cost of exit will be reduced because water is a fluid medium, making it possible to “vote with your house” (or community, or office, or factory) and physically move your platform to a neighboring seastead city-state.

    There will definitely still be a strong cost of exit in terms of social networks and other things — but it will be significantly reduced. (And with regards to social networks in particular, the internet is helping reduce that cost of exit…)

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