Friday, December 19, 2014

Introducing Rodrigo Davies To Peter Boettke

Imagine we're at a holiday party sipping on some eggnog.  Across the room we spot Rodrigo Davies and Peter Boettke.  They are standing back to back and talking to some other people.  Do you think we should introduce them to each other?  Yes?  Me too!

Except, we're not at a holiday party with Rodrigo Davies and Peter Boettke.  We're on the internet...which is way better than real life.  In real life I'd stand there for a long time deliberating trying to figure out the best time to introduce them to each other.  Most likely I'd interrupt them both at the worst possible time...right before the punchlines of their favorite jokes.  This would make me even more nervous and flustered and my mind would go completely blank and I'd be tongue tied and lucky to even remember their names.  They'd end up having no idea why I thought it was so important that they should meet each other.  This scenario would flash through my mind before I even took one step in their direction.  So in order to build up the courage to introduce them to each other I'd have to drink some super stiff eggnog.  But by the time I built up enough courage, it's entirely possible that I'd end up vomiting eggnog all over their shoes.

Thank goodness for the internet!  Here on my blog I can take all the time in the world to put together something that's at least semi-coherent.

Let's start with a brief overview.  As most of you probably already know, libertarians want less government.  The challenge for them is to figure out how, exactly, to go about shrinking the government.  There's been quite a few different ideas on the topic...


One idea that's strangely absent from the libertarian blogosphere is civic crowdfunding...


Out of curiosity I also checked a couple liberal blogs...


All six results are actually for one blog entry...Snark versus Trains...which consists entirely of snippets from this blog entry by Ethan Zuckerman... Google cars versus public transit: the US’s problem with public goods.  Here's a snippet from that entry that will help me attach a few epiphytes to the same branch...
My student Rodrigo Davies has been writing about civic crowdfunding, looking at cases where people join together online and raise money for projects we’d expect a government to otherwise provide. On the one hand, this is an exciting development, allowing neighbors to raise money and turn a vacant lot into a community garden quickly and efficiently. But we’re also starting to see cases where civic crowdfunding challenges services we expect governments to provide, like security. Three comparatively wealthy neighborhoods in Oakland have used crowdfunding to raise money for private security patrols to respond to concerns about crime in their communities. Oakland undoubtably has problems with crime, in part due to significant budget cuts in the past decade that have shrunk the police force.
Not only do you now know who Rodrigo Davies is...you also know what civic crowdfunding is and its relevance to libertarianism.  I certainly wouldn't have been able to recite that entire passage from memory at the holiday party!  Well, I suppose I could have just used my cellphone to access that blog entry.  Then I could have read it out loud.  That wouldn't have been at all awkward...nope.

For those of you who don't know who Peter Boettke is... he's an economist over at George Mason University.  Here's his Wikipedia page...Peter Boettke.    

What happens when we search his blog (Coordination Problem) for "civic crowdfunding"?

"civic crowdfunding" site:coordinationproblem.org - 2 results

1. Richard Ebeling on the Future of the Free society
2. Sumner, Murphy, Richman, and Cantillon Effects

You have to scroll a bit to find the term "civic crowdfunding" because it's not mentioned in the blog entries themselves...it's mentioned in the comment section.  Hmm...I wonder whose comments they are?

It's entirely possible that Boettke read my comments and learned about civic crowdfunding and as such, already knows knows who Davies is.  Except, Boettke's recent blog entry...'Tis the Season for Giving...leads me to a different conclusion...
While the standard political discourse is focused on a battle over the public purse --- either the state demanding more resources to finance its activities, or opponents arguing that the state should be starved of resources --- the real debate that is too rarely discussed is the appropriate scope of governmental activities.  The public discourse for those who advocate a free society must move from starving the state of resources to starving the state of responsibility.
Doesn't this sound like the perfect set up for a discussion on the merits of civic crowdfunding?  Perhaps it might help if I share another snippet from Zuckerman...
If crowdfunding parks succeeds, it supports the case that governments don’t need to build parks because they’ll get built anyway through the magic of civic crowdfunding. That, in turn, supports the Norquistian argument for a government small enough to drown in a bathtub, with services provided by the free market and by crowdfunding a thousand points of light. - How do we make civic crowdfunding awesome?
Zuckerman's fear is that civic crowdfunding has the potential to shift responsibility from the state to individuals...but you sure wouldn't know this from Boettke's blog entry or the blog entries of any of the other prominent libertarian bloggers that I listed above.

Don't get me wrong...I love all the work that they are all doing.  The economics information that they help explain and disseminate goes a really long way to slowing the steady expansion of government.  It just seems like they are missing a valuable opportunity to take an even bigger whack at the root of command economies.

Going back to Boettke's blog entry...he asks...
What is the functional equivalent in the non-profit space of property, prices and profit/loss?  There is no clear answer.
Let's consider this answer from Davies' recent blog entry...A New Way to Invest in Communities...
However, there are other methods of financing community development that can give a much stronger 'yes' to that second question, the question of scale. One of those is a very old form of crowd-based finance: municipal bonds. For just over two centuries, U.S. cities have been using them to finance critical improvements, from transport infrastructure, to schools, to the Golden Gate Bridge. Municipal bonds give individuals the opportunity to invest in improvements to their city, while receiving predictable, tax-free returns every year, and, at the end of the bond (often 5-10 years), the individual gets his or her money back. They don't offer the theoretically sky-high returns of stocks, but they do offer tax-efficient returns at very low risk (the default rate on municipal bonds is close to 1 in 1,000).
What would Boettke have to say about the clarity of this answer?   The answer that he does actually discuss in his blog entry is the idea of focusing more on individuals rather than projects.  If we can crowdfund civic projects...then why can't we also crowdfund civic individuals?  I don't see why we can't.  But sponsoring individuals doesn't only have to be financial...it could also be intellectual as well.  It would be great if Boettke wanted to share some money with Davies...but it would also be pretty wonderful if he wanted to share some constructive blog entries with him as well.

Davies announced in his blog entry that he's recently accepted a position with Neighbor.ly...a civic crowdfunding company.  That's pretty cool!  Hopefully their endeavor will go a long way in helping to clarify the demand for public goods.

Ok, there you go.  Rodrigo Davies and Peter Boettke have now been formally introduced.  And nobody had any eggnog vomited on their shoes.  Or, maybe, this blog entry is the virtual equivalent of eggnog being vomited on everybody's shoes.  hah.  The internet's pretty great.

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