Bryan Caplan  

Future of Political Philosophy Bleg

Hypocrisy and Child Labor... Morality and Medicare...
Will any fundamentally new political philosophy emerge in the Western world during the next fifty years?  If not, why not?  If so, what is it likely to be?

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COMMENTS (21 to date)
Michael writes:

It's impossible to predict future philosophies at this time. But I have an idea for a future philosophy. What if government designed more businesslike? Taxes become the government's source of revenue and people would pay them based off residency. I could move to Canada and would receive instant citizenship and pay Canadian taxes. Tax codes would be modified to ensure people don't try to bankrupt the government. The government would have to compete with other governments to gain tax dollars. The key is instant citizenship and the repercussions of that.

Chris writes:

"Please leave a profound and revolutionary political philosophy in the comments thread -- don't forget to make sure that it's fundamentally new!

When you're done, remember to tell me which stock prices will increase the most this year, and don't forget to specify a proof of the meaning of life!"

AirmanSpryShark writes:

As economic literacy is more broadly disseminated (a fella can dream), the fiscal role of government will be more narrowly tailored to compensate for market problems. Pigovian taxes & subsidies will replace regulations & mandates; public goods will still be paid for by the government, but only directly provided when also natural monopolies (i.e., defense), otherwise tax-funded vouchers will be issued to beneficiaries. A 'grand bargain' will see the simultaneous elimination of the minimum wage, limited-liability corporations, compulsory employer negotiation with unions, and 'right-to-work' laws.

Ben writes:

Not sure what you mean by "fundamentally new" and by "emerge". I'd rate it highly likely there are political realignments--that is, if you take modern liberals, conservatives, libertarians, etc. and put them in 2061, they'll be pretty confused by who's voting for who. But you seem to be looking for something bigger than that.

I'd predict the emergence of a western group that values democracy much less than is standard (based on the rise of China, and on some of your arguments), but I'm not sure that's fundamentally new.

Your colleague Robin Hanson's conception of futarchy seems to fit the bill; it could gain a decent measure of support in 50 years. As could new philosophies that no one's thought of yet. These are likely to be frameworks that better describe the world and/or can be shown to lead to better outcomes.

Old Whig writes:

To predict future philosophies is futile.

That said I can make a guess. I think that we will be seeing a political philosophy like the one in Singapore emerging, the "benevolent" autocrat. In the Arab world and Turkey it will be an amalgamation of religion and growth oriented social democracy with social authoritarian values. An arab version of Bismarcks Prussia and later Germany. Cuba will probably do the same, imitating China and Russia.

I would say that ethno-religious autocratic state capitalism is in many regions the future. It might even be that way in many western countries, you have only to see the rise of the nativist parties in Europe. They thrive on looking back to the 50s with ethnic monocultures and strong labor unions with hard protectionism.

Even the US looked for a while after the election 2008 going there, it's foremost prophet is Paul Krugman.

Alex J. writes:

A political philosophy which takes our biases and irrationalities into account, instead of assuming that the political process washes them away. Stockholm syndrome, rational irrationality, human diversity, tribalism, rationalization, etc should be taken into account.

It seems to me that, since we can't test counter-factuals, political philosophy suffers from "just-so" stories to an even greater extent than socio-biology. Most efforts are to make pat excuses for the status quo or to fight some battle against it. Even someone like John Locke, who made important contributions which actually affected the world for the better, made sloppy jumps from the state of nature to what is justified about our current affairs. (e.g. Two disputing parties need a third party to make a decision seen to be just, but Locke erroneously claimed that this means there must be a sovereign to be that third party. Why not just some respected judge? Who judges the sovereign?)

To answer the question with some wild speculation:

As the economy and social ties become more complicated, for Hayekian reasons, the government will become more and more out of touch and inefficient. As more and more of what matters moves online, the governments ability to extract revenues will be reduced. Improved communications and miniaturization will continue to enable irregular forces to escape the grasp of conventional forces - so long as the people support the irregulars. (Imagine GPS-guided katyushas in the hands of the taliban.) As the government becomes more and more out of touch, many peoples' capacity for group loyalty will take forms other than patriotism. In the wealthier countries, welfare will lose support as it becomes more abused, most countries will move much farther to the "neighbor" model of the US as opposed to the "family" model of a country like Japan or Sweden. (Not that there's a huge difference now.)


Various governments might retain a huge capacity to wreck things, though not to add value. More distributed means of defense might work against new threats, but perhaps governments will be able to displace those capacities. When the status quo changes, there will be a need for a new political philosophy to justify it and make sense of it. If we're lucky, the right philosophy will keep people from supporting actions which make things worse instead of better.

I think we will (or should anyway) get Locke with the "social" contract replaced by actual contractual affiliation, and a new political philosophy to go along with this new order.

Floccina writes:

Redistributionism with minimal government ownership. Sell the schools, roads, parks etc. Eliminate SS and Medicare and just redistribute money from rich to poor so they can buy their own SS and Medicare.

drobviousso writes:

Define emerge? I think there's a low, but not 0, chance that some sea-scapers might found a very anarco-capitalist nation. Anarco-capitolism has been around for some time, but I would bet 99% of the US population has no idea what it is.

Erich Schwarz writes:

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!


Chris Lemens writes:

So much optimism, predicting new political pholisophies that want less government. I think it will be the other way around. Any new philosophy will be yet another justification for government action.

Old Whig's answer seems to be one of the more likely possibilities. The spin I would put on it is that someone comes up with an explicit rationale for the corporate state. It would have to be stronger than the progressive ideas of experts running things or of profit being inefficiency that can be eliminated through a single governmental provider. It would also be stronger than the ideas of national or public service being good. But it would encompass those and make production of many good and services into a state activity.

My favorite off-the-wall candidate is religious environmentalism. This isn't entirely new, but it would be well beyond the idea of being God's steward. Instead, it would be more like mankind's actions toward the planet mirroring the state of the soul. People pollute the planet just like they are spiritually polluted. Original sin desecrates the soul; humanity desecrates the planet. Man is evil on the inside and makes evil on the outside. Or something like that. There might even be a call to crusade or jihad against polluters.

Of course, I failed predict the Tea Party, so what do I know.


jiriki writes:

Possibly pragmatism?

Political movement free of ideological thinking (atleast trying to be), willing to favour system that the experts on the subject support? Possibly it could be a movement that emphasises systems which produce good results (like prediction markets) over specific opinions. Such movement could take a lot from libertarians.

I know some people who understand libertarianism to the very fine detail, but don't necessarily agree with all of it. I'm not talking about people like Mike Huben or pro-left people like Krugman, but generally academics with intellectual sharpness of Milton Friedman with great understanding of libertarian insights into social science. Generally any smart people equipped with creativity, and intellectual honesty might be able to devise better social logic to maximize happiness and wealth (for example). There're loads of smart people figuring out complicated things like continious mathematics and algorithms. If all these people would reach social science understanding level of Friedman, I'm sure there would be lots of productive human capital to produce smart ideas like futarchies.

I'd say engineers are usually quite prone to see through all kinds of fuzzy logic like one-line moral philosophies. Educated with the proper material, they could possibly form this kind of movement. I'm sure such people may not be so interested in the semi-intellectual atmosphere of conservatism or inefficiencies of the left-wing, not to mention supporting random special interest groups. Being in the field, I'd say this is plausible.

But that's the optimist scenario. I'd definitely have such a group and libertarians in the future political sphere than any of what we have right now. Probably we're going to have some quasi-religous parties, maybe something China-inspired authotarianism, more flavours of left-wing plus all kinds of nationalists.

I would also say whatever misconception public has about any issue such as markets or immigration, if its strong enough, it will create a movement.

Also I'd say anti-IPR movement is going to get more support, as trying to set up ownership for bits and information is going to get very hard for the state to enforce, and require ever more intrusive technology. The "anarchy" of the internet is going to increase demand for libertarians too, which I gladly welcome.

Alex J. writes:

Authoritarianism, even pragmatical, is not a new political philosophy.

Futarchy is a mechanism, not a philosophy. The wiki blurb suggests it would be embedded in representative democracy.

Of course, anarcho-capitalism is not new either, but you could arguably round it down to zero so far.

Religious environmentalism would be new, if it were to be developed into a political philosophy. (Though the Aztecs did the human-sacrifice-so-the-sun-rises thing already.) Environmentalists tend to be social democrats or socialists. I'm not aware of the political schemes of the primitivists. It's all well and good for you to say we should live simply, but how are you going to make me do so?

John writes:

Meritocracy? And by that I mean, rule by the competent. It's never been tried.

Chris_Y writes:

The Ancient Greeks gave us Democracy and the has all low hanging fruit been picked?

jiriki writes:

"Authoritarianism, even pragmatical, is not a new political philosophy."
Well in the sense, that if your political axis is closed and has anarcho-capitalism in the other end, and socialism in the other, you can't really have anything new, can you?

This is probably how most austrians see the subject. But the main problem with this line of reasoning, is that it is very black and white. It is like enforcing intellectual property rights (in the internet), it just ain't that simple!

I call this binary logic in word of approximal values. Its like saying you either have 1 or 0 in signal processing, but things are much much more complicated than that, thus we have things like Bayesian interference, neural networks etc.

If you read this blog, I suppose you would have run into these arguments how silly one line moral philosophies are. Caplan writes about it every now and then. That is why saying everything before X is socialism/authotarianism and everything after that is libertarianism, is basically silly. Things are just more amibigous.

A fitting link:

"Futarchy is a mechanism, not a philosophy. The wiki blurb suggests it would be embedded in representative democracy."
What are socialism or libertarianism but mechanisms, a.k.a. solutions to coordination problems? Futarchy is a mechanism as presented by Hanson, but you could easily develop a movement/philosophy around the political idea of taking into account human biases, uncertainty and distribution of information, improving the state legislation process.

Matt writes:

I could see a growing sentiment in free market elites where they get so fed up that they decide that it would be better to just purchase government and run it themselves. I think people like Donald Trump and Meg Witman (people with lots of money running for office and failing) begin to multiply and organize. They start talking about things like charter cities and the drawbacks of democracy. Other people start buying into it and perfecting the ideas and writing them down.

I'm not sure about the specifics; this is just a guess. I think it would incorporate a lot of the things you hear on economics blogs like the use of betting markets. Basically, the philosophy says put your money where your mouth is.

John T. Kennedy writes:

Transhuman intelligences may well emerge in a technological singularity in the next 50 years. Such entities may be ungovernable, making most political philosophy moot.

If that doesn't happen technological advances will still probably fundamentally change human life. Immortality may become attainable for instance. People may choose to spend most of their lives in rich virtual environments. I would think such profound changes in the human condition would almost certainly cause new political philosophies to arise.

Market anarchy will still be correct though.

John T. Kennedy writes:

Michael writes:

"What if government designed more businesslike? Taxes become the government's source of revenue and people would pay them based off residency. I could move to Canada and would receive instant citizenship and pay Canadian taxes. Tax codes would be modified to ensure people don't try to bankrupt the government. The government would have to compete with other governments to gain tax dollars. The key is instant citizenship and the repercussions of that."

That's not a new political philosophy, it's a variant of market anarchism.

Hume writes:

I do not see any new political philosophies emerging. Rather, I see old philosophies repackaged in order to justify and legitimize the growing (inevitable?) trend towards international government. This is already occurring with the proliferation of cosmopolitan-centered theories of justice (e.g., globalization leading to an international basic structure).

prakash writes:

I can see many possible modes of conflict, but how many would be a fundamentally new philosophy - can't say.

Transhumanist vs Conservative (religious environmentalists included)
Indefinite lifeist vs Traditional deathist
Individualist (limit bandwidth of information into the human skull upto a certain level)vs Borgist (no limits, lets merge into the borg)
Live-and-let-Live-ists vs Do-anything-to-prevent-existential-risk-ists
Fun-ists (Do what is fun)vs Duty-ists(You have a duty to do X,Y,Z irrespective of whether it's fun)

Michael Keenan writes:

If seasteading (or something else that reduces the cost to start a government) works, I hope that the explosion in the number and diversity of governments might lead to a meta-political philosophy: instead of arguing about which X-ism is the best form of government for all humans, we might instead say that all humans should have the form of government that they prefer (or as close to that as feasible).

Of course, there are ancient in-group/out-group social signaling reasons why people care about the organization of other humans, and I don't expect this to be huge in the same way that, for example, classical liberalism was huge.

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