[I wrote this brief essay in 2010 at the request of a Washington Times editor for their “Communities” blog. The essay (or at least part of it) was posted for a time there, but I’m unable to find it at http://www.washingtontimes.com/communities/. I’m reprinting it here, slightly updated, because I believe I’m finally in a position to make good on some of its promises.]
Radical Decentralization and Freedom
In the 1980s, as a mathematics graduate student at the University of Chicago, I had a friend with an odd reason for studying molecular biology. Most graduate students that I knew got into the sciences because they had a talent for it, enjoyed it, and stood to make a living at it. I was one of them. By contrast, my friend’s overriding concern was to do an end-run around irresponsible bureaucrats and corporations. As he put it, “Instead of fighting them politically to stop polluting the oceans, better to spend my time developing biological agents that will clean up their mess.” He said this well before the Exxon-Valdez and BP disasters.
Last I was in touch with him, he left the University of Chicago, joined the Marines, and then went on for a law degree. Perhaps he wasn’t quite as politically unconventional as he made out. But his aim, even if weak on follow-through, left an impression on me and inspired a principle that now, in an age of increasingly irresponsible bureaucracies, monetary authorities, and special interests, seems particularly urgent: instead of trying to get the wrong people to do the right thing, make it impossible for the wrong people to keep the right people from doing the right thing. Let’s call this the Principle of Radical Decentralization. More on the name as we proceed.Continue Reading