Sunday, February 3, 2013

Condorcet and Immigration

Friend of EE and open borders advocate Vipul Naik examines half a dozen policy preference rank-orderings on the topic of immigration reform. This is a potentially useful taxonomy for short-term coalition-building (though I might throw in some weights to highlight the intensity of policy preference), but it strikes me that the larger conflict is one of ideas.

Recall the kernel of Andrea's Question: we know we've got a good case for increasing the scope of voluntary exchange, so what do we do about it?

Well, what did the English do prior to the Glorious Revolution? What did Madison do in his debates against Hamilton? What were the ideas underpinning the Velvet Revolution? How is it the US began as a constitutionally-limited federal republic and is now a de facto pseudo-monarchy?

Imagine that instead of modeling constitutional choice as a solution to a coordination game, we tweak things just a little bit and make it a battle of the sexes game. At a quick snapshot glance, the solutions to the game are identical: pick one solution and go with it. Which solution shall we choose? Well, Thomas Schelling argued that there may be some external focal point that helps to draw attention to one solution over the others. In the case of Madison v. Hamilton, if you choose to stick with the coordination game story, you can say that the ideas forwarded in the Enlightenment and expounded upon in the Federalist Papers acted as drivers for the Schelling Point among their constituencies. If you accept my tweak to the game format, you'll see that it makes sense for the minority coalition of elites to subvert opponents' ideological foundations. You see, in my BoS alteration, the asymmetric payoffs accumulate, building resentment between elites and providing an incentive for the minority coalition to convince the constituency of the other side to defect.

But how does one do that if one is in the minority coalition?

Public education is a relatively minor institution. Or it was in 1789. Strip the dignity from bourgeois achievement among the young, inculcate reverence for the central government and just wait for those kids to grow into their role as majority-age voters. Similarly, the notion that international finance is anything but a game to be played by bored aristocracy was effectively challenged in 17th c. London coffee houses by plain burghers. Successful minority elites find ways to gain ground in the clash of ideas. It's not always the same way, but the common thread is that successful minority coalitions don't bother wasting their time shouting into an echo chamber. They share their ideas with people whose minds still stand ready to be changed. Perhaps these days, this consists of disseminating rap videos about the relative merits of dead white economists. Perhaps it's the Dub-MOE hopping around on one foot or making up doggerel about the First Law of Demand.

In Naik's taxonomy, I am a (1)>(2)>(3) guy. Yet, when I talk to my non-economist friends, I find them to be mostly (3)>>>>(2)>(1) people, swallowing bullets by the bucketload. Today's median voter already has a well-defined moral code. Tomorrow's? Maybe not.

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?