Feed on

It is not hard to find examples of markets not being able to deliver a solution to a particular social problem. Note that I did not say a market failed – because the concept doesn’t exist. As I’ve said time and again, humans interact with other humans to find out ways to make their lives better. The basic social problem is one of how best to coordinate the activities of each other in harmonious ways. It’s not always easy – and the fact that markets themselves exist is testament to the idea that these have been stumbled upon as pretty effective institutions to help overcome coordination problems.

Remember however that there are many other ways for humans to coordinate their activities – including religious organizations, extended familial relationships, community organizations, governments, and so on. That government is the other major institution in society today is also telling – we stumbled upon that too as a way to help overcome other classes of coordination problems.

That said, it is very easy to imagine that a market setting (given current culture, technology and property rights institutions) may not easily overcome certain classes of coordination problems. For example, allowing the free and open buying and selling of ocean fish may result in rapid depletion of open fisheries. But from that observation (empirically verifiable too!) it certainly does not follow that having the government own and operate ocean fisheries will make the problem any better.

The only way that the latter observation follows is by assuming a natural state of perfection when governments operate. Of course, if transactions costs within government were zero, and information costs within government were zero, monitoring government was cheap and easy and incentives within government were aligned perfectly with the objectives of citizens, then yes, sure, government management of the commons would solve the fishery problem. But that is not the world we live in. It never was and never will be. You cannot under any reasonable operational model of human behavior compare the inability of people to coordinate their activities under market institutions as they actually exist on earth today, with the ability of people to coordinate their activities under political institutions that only exist in the land of unicorns. But that is precisely what we do. It’s a pretty unsophisticated and uncharitable approach to doing comparative institutional analysis.

We can do better than that. And that’s true for those of us that appreciate how well market institutions work. Extra credit to anyone who can figure out why the post is titled what it is.

5 Responses to “Monitor Lizard Theory of Government”

  1. Monitor lizards can run for short distances on their back legs. Government control works in the short run. (Especially if your goal is devouring prey.)

    Is it not true that the real problem is that no one owns the oceans? No one has title to any cubic space of water. We do not have problems with cattle or carrots. Applied to free ranging life, the title might be to the school, regardless if which space it is in. But this would need deep thinking and I am not confident that the present SCOTUS or World Court has the right theory of law for this.

  2. sherlock says:

    Some moniter lizards can reproduce asexually. So if the original was perfect in every single way, this would be a viable means of reproduction.

  3. Rod says:

    Monitor Lizards are big and scary, so most of the time, the people regard any challenge to the government as impossible or at least needlessly difficult. Just sign your 1040 and hope one of those lizards doesn’t latch onto your leg.

    Wasn’t it Sharon Stone, who, in the spirit of the belief that all creatures in nature are nice, got into the monitor lizard pen and had one of them take a piece of flesh out of her leg and/or buttocks? When you feed the beast, it’s best not to feed him a part of you.

  4. Harry says:

    The monitor lizard eats everything it can, lashing its big tail wildly to subdue its prey. Once it sinks its teeth into whatever it wants to eat, it tenaciously holds on. When threatening prey, it blows up and hisses, creating the impression it is capable of more than it can really handle.

  5. jb says:

    Creative answers! I will continue to monitor for Wintercow’s answer. I agree with Mike M. — the fisheries problem is that there is no practical way to assign/enforce property rights to a school of fish in an open ocean. I guess they have come up with transferable quotas though, as a means of attempting that. Anybody know how that has worked out? Salmon farming is another answer. From what I understand lobersterman effectively stake out “property rights” by staking out an area and excluding others from it so overfishing is effectilvey enforced by a shotgun.

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