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« Breaking the BBC's radio monopoly | Main | More trouble coming? »
Friday
May082009

On localism

Chris Dillow wonders if people aren't disposed to a truly liberal society, their preferences being distorted by cognitive biases - for example that they might prefer the devil they know to the devil they don't, or that they might see only the benefits of a step in an authoritarian direction but not the hidden costs.

His points are not obviously wrong, but I do wonder if the importance of what he is saying is a function more of the kind of society we have become in the last twenty years than a reflection of the way things have to be.

As the British state has become more and more centralised, it has become virtually impossible for meaningful experiments into different ways of running society to be undertaken. Everything has to be processed by the Whitehall machine with its wide array of British Leyland minds struggling to deal with any idea not rooted in 1940s economic thinking.

Innovation has been well and truly stifled.

In a society where innovation in ways of running things are so difficult, the problems which Chris Dillow identifies are made so much the worse. Rather than having to persuade a majority of people somewhere to overcome their cognitive biases, it is necessary to persuade a majority of people everywhere. In practice it doesn't happen.

It's the same in America, where the constitutional guarantees of federalism and individual sovereignty have been undermined by the Supreme Court leaving the ninth and tenth amendments as mere words that hold no fear for the executive and the legislature alike.

I was therefore interested to see this attempt to add a whole new bill to the constitution, rolling back decades of judicial undermining of American federalism. It remains to be seen if it will amount to anything, but it at least provides a modicum of hope for our transatlantic cousins.

For us in the UK, with our (mainly) unwritten constitution, this sort of grand rewriting of the rules is, of course, not possible. We simply have to choose a government that will devolve power downwards.

I think we could be waiting a long time.

 

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