20 November 2009

Rules & Utopia

Stanford economist Paul Romer has an interesting, very provocative idea. He lays it out in this TED talk. One of the things that I think he misses - largely because he is an economist, and so likely thinks rules emerge from nice processes for nice (read efficient) ends - is that institutional rules typically are the product of conflict and struggle, typically (again) between parties that are asymmetrically situated with respect to such minor things like power and material resources. This is perhaps not insurmountable. But he is way too sanguine, I think, when he raises and dismisses the spectre of colonialism. Choice is important. True enough. But in the face of a system of rules that may need reforming or re-adjusting, choice is not only not enough. It may well be counter-productive. What is needed is coordination. What is required, in other words, is politics. And most leaders are - just based on casual observation - loath to make space for coordinated opposition and criticism. Perhaps Romer has thoughts on this that would've cluttered a short presentation. I hope so. (Thanks to Cui Zhiyuan for calling my attention to this link.)

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