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It’s 87,576 to nothing. What am I talking about? Well, there are 87,576 governmental jurisdictions in the United States – well, at least there were when the 2o02 Census of Governments was conducted. And what does the score mean? How many of them do you think are truly “free enterprise” zones? How many of them do you think resemble anything like an idealized (albeit experimental) version of a private property rights order? Sure, some of the small municipalities have outsourced their fire services and trash services to a private company, but those are an extremely stark minority. How many of them have totally eschewed eminent domain authority? How many of them have no zoning? How many of them have no tax system to speak of? How many of them attempt to nullify bad state and federal laws and say, grant immunity to any immigrant who makes their way there? How many of them allow doctors to practice without a license? Allow hair stylists to cut hair without cosmetology degrees? How many of them eschew building codes and historical preservation statutes? How many have no government run schools or post offices? How many eschew central bank money? How many do all of these things? And more.

The point of my question is not really to wax idyllic about the desirability of a world comprised of large swaths of 100% private organization, not at all. My point is that for all of the tinkering, techno-planning, stimulating, etc. that we do, is it not even the tiniest bit odd or awkward or perhaps cognitively inconsistent to see not so much as one tiny little experiment in America, something resembling complete private order? When people ask me why I think the default view is what it is, this is primarily what I have stuck in my head that has led me to that conclusion. Clearly there are millions of thoughtful people out there, and clearly a good many of them would like to see better outcomes for humanity regardless of how we got there. At least so I think. Then why are the “experiments” we see here in America anything but what I refer to above? I think I can answer that question without having to rely on the default view argument, but that’s for another post.

This musing really struck me hard as I was sitting outside the other night gazing at Orion (don’t ask) and thinking about a discussion I had recently with some Chinese students. I had asked them about how some of their home cities have changed in the last 20 years and I had asked them if they had thoughts on the emerging multi-tiered system of property rights in China. It was exciting to see them talk about how fast China has developed, about some newfound freedoms people were enjoying, etc.

And so I am stuck with this in my head. There are some people in this world, including one of the most influential Progressive intellectuals who gaze fancifully upon China because their still authoritarian government has the ability to mobilize people and resources rapidly and therefore would be a better model to emulate if you wanted to end bipartisan gridlock on climate policy and health care policy, for example. Never mind that China has lots of trains and roads to nowwhere and that their middle class is subsidizing American consumption at their own cost …

I am absolutely baffled by the quite opposite take on China. I, too, can be called a Chinese navel gazer. And I too wish the US could be more like China for a day. But I say that because I look at the trajectory of China and I look at how their economic system has evolved in the last two to three decades and I see a country where private enterprise is becoming more respected and where notions of private property are becoming more, not less, appreciated. Indeed, the authoritarian Chinese that Friedman and his followers so lovingly look upon are authoritarian enough to set up many giant enterprise zones where the scope of economic freedom is far larger than it is elsewhere in the country. In other words, the Chinese communists are far more willing to experiment with competition and respect for property than it seems we American “democrats” are … isn’t that a bit funny?

And no, please don’t try to invoke New York’s special enterprise zones as an example – they are far from resembling what I am talking about. Giving special favors to certain technology firms and sticking it to the rest of the taxpayers is not exactly what I have in mind.

Finally, my scorekeeping above is a bit conservative. Why is that? It’s a static measure. But remember each of the 87,000+ jurisdictions out there has a chance to remake policy every year. Over a two year period, for example, there over 170,000 chances to try contract and property. Over three years, over 261,000 … in other words, if there are N jurisdictions and T time periods, there are N x T total periods when contract and property have had a chance to be tried. And how many of the 87,000 jurisdictions over the past 50 years have actually committed to it?

In a country that is characterized as “wildly capitalistic” that is a pretty low batting average, no? What would you call us if we actually gave it a shot a few times?

6 Responses to “If You’re Keeping Score at Home”

  1. jb says:

    Note an important distinction for your readers: The Friedman to whom you refer is no doubt Thomas Friedman, NYT columnist, not Milton…not hardly

  2. Harry says:

    Actually, from where I sit in our little township, we just had a local election that pitted the freedom people against the progressive planners, and the freedom people won. This occurred while the Democrats gained control of the county for the first time in 140 years. (County policy will not change — we have had the county committee stand for nothing for about thirty years or so. Nobody has ever stepped up to defend property and freedom. But that is a different story. They deserved to lose.)

    The two people who won replaced two good people who are retiring to spend time for the other parts of their lives, and the present board consists of one progressive planner (the Chairman) a retired State Policeman, the husband of the district judge (both good people), and another person whom I do not know well, but has a bean counter background, but let’s just say he supported a $65,000 pavilion at a township park as opposed to a $350,000 pavilion. A compromiser, pleasing his constituents, who want the township to provide a pavilion, ball fields, etc. Not a Rizzo guy, but frugal.

    However, to this point we have no township police or trash collection. The fire company is volunteer. We do have zoning, which relatively has been kept under control, despite the creeping socialists lurking everywhere. It is that way because in our little corner of the county there are many people who will not be conned into believing that our government will make them happier.

    The township now levies a one mill tax on real estate, a one percent tax on earned income, and a de minimis occupational privelege tax. The township gets its road repair and maintenance revenue from the state liquid fuels tax, which is based per standard mile of road.

    Until the township had to add an $80,000 traffic light (1980 dollars! 80 K!), there was a time when the township levied zero real estate taxes. Since then, the tax crept up to half a mill to one mill, to pay for a professional township manager. I would argue that he is not needed, my gut feel from my consulting career.

    But overall, because we have so many municipalities, which are small, we have managed to keep things under control, and that is the good news. We are about the furtherest from Berkeley as you can get. In two years we take aim at the planner chairman, and it is up to us to sell the alternative.

    I sure hope the Chicoms let their people be free, but we still have a head start.

  3. As I completed my master’s in social science (BS criminology), at Eastern Michigan University (2010), I took a cognate elective in geographic information systems and met a Chinese grad student on his way to a doctorate program at Ohio State. For his master’s he created a people’s reporting system for crime. It already exists in Shanghai and other cities. They do not wait for the police. Anyone can go to a website and enter GIS information for a crime.

    Back at the community college, I took a history class in China. It ran 5000 years… A few centuries are nothing. They can have a capitalist century. Your life will be affected by that. It might only be a blip on their radar but it will profoundly affect your life here and now.

    Their Yinghou Mars probe seems stranded in its Russian carrier right now… but the fact that they have a Mars probe speaks volumes.

    Maybe nothing will come of all this… They lack immigrants. But, you know, you open the doors to opportunity and no telling what will happen…

  4. Scott says:

    Our nation was built by people who left everything they had to travel across the world, into unclaimed territory, to build something out of nothing by nature’s resources. Contrasting their willingness to risk everything for freedom with the risk averse attitude we see so much in our current America…we seem more eager to pass the thinking along to those who claim they ought to be the ones making the decisions. The reason the score is so lopsided is because no where has a community placed freedom over security. We’ve established communities based on fear rather than freedom. We are so scared to disrupt the current order that we will not permit the absolute freedom of every human being.

  5. Harry says:

    Michael, as opposed to Mike, everything you write provides something new. I do not want to make any comment about China, lest I expose my ignorance. (I can have an opinion about Mao, though, and his wife and the Great Leap Forward, and all the bloodshed, but nearly all friends of Rizzo agree on that point.) I have no idea what is going on in China, but I would expect many of them have figured out that Mao was absolutely wrong about the way to happiness.

    What concerns me is not what is happening in the hinterlands, but rather an aggressive build-up of Chinese military power, which has been unrelenting as long as I can remember. One might say, OK, the US has hegemony over the world, so what is wrong with China building up its navy?

    Well, they have territorial ambitions to acquire Taiwan, and as Ron Paul would point out, that is half way around the world. My question is: why doesn’t China make a peaceful offer to buy Taiwan, as opposed to invading it to acquire it cheaply?

    The United States has always been a non- imperial power. OK, there were assorted wars with Spain, but when we became the big dog, the American people would never support imperialistic ventures. For example, we have eschewed invading Saudi Arabia. Even though Okinawa remains US territory, we have deferred to the Japanese, even after we conquered them, and we allowed them to rebuild and prosper, as long as they behaved. Same thing for the Germans, and now the mistrustful Russians.

    I wish we could trust China to just protect their borders, but the ideology of the people who run the navy is still back in its Marxist/Lennist/Maoist roots, which depends on eliminating competition from freedom. Same story with Iran.

    I wish I could share Rizzo’s optimism about China, and, believe it or not, Michael, I am an optimist.

  6. Rod says:

    If the Chicoms were really smart, they’d buy Alberta.

    Harry’s right: the use of military power is tempting for the Chinese. It also fits with dialectical materialism and that struggle stuff that Communists love.

    I had no idea that there was private property in China. That’s where the Russkies have backslid now that Putin has become the shirtless de facto dictator. When he rides a horse, I’d love to see a greenheaded fly land on his back.

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