[ExI] Don't be a locavore fundamentalist

Anders Sandberg asa at nada.kth.se
Mon Sep 28 10:51:44 UTC 2009

Giulio Prisco (2nd email) wrote:
> Seeing this from another point of view: everyone understands that a
> black-market economy will develop if taxes become too high or the
> goods become too difficult to obtain. So black-markets play a useful
> role to help keeping the greed of bureaucrat control-freaks in check.
> This could be extended to other areas of public policy, with
> interesting results.

It is a bit of a meta-libertarian view: the degree of state control is 
subject to self-organizing influences. Robert Nozick used this in his 
argument why a minarchist state would emerge from a purely anarchist 
state of nature. In the other direction, a too overreaching state will 
eventually be subjected to corrections from angry citizens (whether as 
violent rebels or annoyed voters), economic feedbacks or changes in how 
well the regulations actually work (e.g. black markets, people 
exploiting a too complex system). Whether this view actually works is 
unclear: it is not obvious that there is a single optimum we would 
converge to, there might be "metamarket failures" that actually prevents 
convergence to something good, and the process itself might have human 
costs we are not willing to take.

In the case of the threat of emerging black markets this only 
discourages control-freak decisionmakers who recognize that they are a 
bad thing. Incompetent or short-sighted bureucrats may not see the 
problem (case in point: a tobacco tax in Sweden in the 90's that led to 
a flourishing of organized crime powered by cigarette-smuggling). They 
might think the drawbacks are worth taking, especially if they are 
deontological (anti-abortion people likely think that a black abortion 
market is bad, but much less morally bad than free access to abortions - 
the number counts less than the immorality of the action). And there are 
some corrupt bureaucrats who will simply exploit the emerging black 
market. An open democratic society tends to handle the first and last 
category decently: stupidities are pointed out, corrupt people uncovered 
and forced to resign. The second category will however potentially 
remain, keeping politics interesting.

In a less healthy society there might be a phase transition to 
corruption when enough bureaucrats are in the third category: at this 
point they have an incentive to impose more black market-producing rules 
for their own gain, and the bureaucrat who doesn't gets left behind. As 
more of the market becomes black, there is a decrease in efficiency, 
oversight and accountability that in turn reduces the rule of law, 
making corruption even more tempting.

Anders Sandberg
Future of Humanity Institute
Philosophy Faculty of Oxford University

More information about the extropy-chat mailing list