Friday, November 7, 2014

Hoc est Corpus Juris

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

So far I've proposed the following as an analytical adjunct to standard relative price economics:

  1. Part of the rental value of certain spaces arises from a single-use characteristic. If it would be odd or off-putting to conduct the activities reserved for a particular location elsewhere, then such a space can command a higher rent than a general-use space. (lemma) Negotiation over these rents is not a priori obvious, and will tend to be historically and culturally contingent.
  2. Single-use rents require that users observe the restrictions on the use of the space. Maintaining observation among users is a standard collective action problem in economics, and real-world solutions to these collective action problems is a task for post hoc investigation and analysis. 
So far, we have a church (RNC HQ | Apple store | strip club), we have parishioners (partisans | customers | clients), but I've not mentioned the clerisy. Nor have I explicitly mentioned what role the rise of the sharing economy might have on the generation and capture of sacred rents. This is relevant to EE because it is precisely the transitional gains trap that often gooses incumbents into obstructing innovations that benefit citizens. Moreover, if incumbents hold their privileged positions with the blessings of (constituents | clients | parishioners), dislodging them or buying them off will be exceptionally challenging. 

In this taxonomy, a priest is the residual claimant of a sacred rent. So is Tim Cook, so is Debbie Wasserman Schultz, so is Satoru Iwata. So also divine-right kings of yore (perhaps the King of Thailand today), so also a few Soviet premieres (Lenin for sure, probably Stalin too), so also Ieyasu Tokugawa. The faithful, the partisans, the devoted customers, the loyal subjects are tenants if you will: beneficiaries of the rental value of the sacred space. Threats to this rental value are treated accordingly.

This is one of the reasons I think the Team Red/Team Blue analytical framework could use a little scaffolding. Team members are opposed to each other, but in much the same way as the Knicks might be opposed to the Lakers: they're rivals, but at least they're both playing basketball. Team Gray (or is it 'grey'?) is a pack of apostates: they're playing intramural Frisbee golf. Apostates are generally ignored, unless they start actually threatening the institutions of the organization itself. Libertarians were a bunch of fringe kooks until 2008, when they sort of amorphously began to gnaw at the bunting around the debate stage. That happened, and hey-presto, both Team Blue and Team Red partisans began hauling out rhetorical cannon against all the astroturfing. Or you see zealots on Twitter castigating a Reason reporter who spills all her ink on topics like sexual liberation and reproductive rights as being a shill for oligarchs:
 Gimme gimme that old-time religion.

In political space, at least in the US, Duverger's Law locks in the party monopoly. Even if you don't like the Knicks, you're still going to watch the basketball game regardless. But note very closely reactions to even modest threats to the overall institutional integrity of the system. Homeschooling is the Uber of the indoctrination of the young. If successful, it strips the secular priesthood of the devoted. Right now, Team Red isn't raising too much of a stink because it sort of looks like homeschooling is handing them the ball. But if it turns out that homeschooled kids grow up as political apostates, expect both teams to mount up and ride out against homeschooling in full force.

As a general-purpose apostate myself, I feel obliged to share my biases with you, my fine audience. I am of the opinion that sacred rents are a fine thing, an excellent thing. Such rents enrich the human existence. It is a wondrous delight to abandon yourself to those sublime moments when you connect yourself to a larger, mysterious other. A sense of belonging is simply critical to social animals enjoying the fullness this existence has to offer us. However, this does not imply that elevating a distinct class of elites to wield dominion over these rents is either wise or just. In this sense, I'm a thoroughgoing anabaptist: the clerisy exists to serve the parish, the statesman to serve the constituency, the retailer to serve the customer. Any time any residual claimant of a scared rent begins to extract unjust rents or to exert excessive dominion, the covenant is ruptured. Courageous parishioners, courageous citizens, courageous consumers of ethical game journalism are obliged to pick up their hammer and nail their Ninety-Five Theses to the doors of the Church | Legislature | Gamestop. Reclaim your sacred rents. Your heart is your own. Treasure it. If not for yourself, then for your children.

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