Small Is Beautiful: The Democratic Advantages of Smaller States

Public choice theory teaches us that the bigger the political entity, the less incentives the citizens have to participate actively and to be well informed within a democracy. Democracy and its advantages should be discussed while taking the size of the democracy in question into account.

During my last visit to Switzerland, I was astonished to learn about the election process of local judges and other public offices, where some local towns and villages elect them by assembling at the local town square and vote. This form of democracy is totally different from a democracy that consist of over 300 million people, as in the case of the United States of America. The citizens of Switzerland know the people who are in charge. They are able to give direct feedback to them in the form of conversations, citizens’ advocacy groups, or in severe cases, social ostracism. These mechanisms are not available, or at least weakened, in the case of the USA, where one member of Congress represents 600,000 citizens (when the U.S. constitution was written the number of citizens represented by an elected official was 30,000). Debates about the merits and shortcomings of democracies would benefit if the size of the state in question would be taken into account.

Social science and statecraft are complicated and their insights opaque. There are no conditions that can be held constant to accurately test the effects of one policy and compare it to another. It had to be learned the hard way that one cannot simply take a given institutional framework that has worked in one context (for instance common law or the rule of law) and enforce it onto a different society and get the same results. Institutions are sticky and are hard to change. This mistake is encapsulated for me by a presentation by the former commander of the US forces in Afghanistan, General McChrystal. One slide of the presentation showed the blueprint for Afghanistan to become a functioning state. This desire for such large scale planning is a Pretence of Knowledge.

Institutions are the result of evolutionary forces and built upon complex foundations. One cannot just simply transfer a set of institutions from one society to the next and expect the same results. That the U.S. has moved private troops out of (and have left numerous private mercenaries in) Afghanistan does not lead to the conclusion that“nation-building” was successful.


Read the rest at Huffington Post…

Here’s how a Brazilian libertarian group is proving capitalism isn’t just a rich man’s game

It’s rather odd that capitalism in the United States is often thought as an economic system that primarily benefits the wealthy. In many other parts of the world, the promise of free enterprise is seen as a godsend by the middle class and poor.

Case in point: the Free Brazil Movement (Moviemento Brasil Livre), a ragtag team college-age kids that has galvanized its South American nation in favor of freer markets and government transparency after a major corruption scandal plagued the current administration.

On March 15, Free Brazil organized the largest demonstration São Paulo has seen since the country’s last dictatorship in 1984, with over 200,000 Brazilians taking to the streets to demand the removal of President Dilma Rousseff from power.

Now the movement, led by 19-year-old Kim Kataguiri, is embarking on a 33-day, 621-mile march from São Paulo to the capital Brasília, following a route the Portuguese bandeirantes took when settling the country in the 17th century.

Lest there be any doubt about mixed motivations behind the movement, Kataguiri is remarkably clear on its goals: “We defend free markets, lower taxes, and the privatization of all public companies.” Citing Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, Margaret Thatcher, and Rand Paul as influences, Kataguiri and his crew are bona fide libertarians. In fact, Kataguiri is even a local coordinator with the international libertarian nonprofit Students For Liberty (SFL), my employer.

Yet, besides receiving free training and a few books from SFL, Free Brazil is a low-budget operation of its own. “Unfortunately, we don’t have any big sponsors,” Kataguiri told The Guardian. “The government and some sectors of the press say that we are financed by rich people. We would have no problem in being financed by rich people.”

Kim himself is a college dropout and the son of a metal worker — not exactly born with a silver spoon in mouth.

Read the rest at Rare… 


Federal Sentencing Reform Can Reduce Prison Crowding and Save Money

In recent weeks, officials from Massachusetts to Nebraska have called for mandatory minimum sentencing reform in order to reduce the hundreds of thousands of inmates deluging the criminal justice system. Yet while state-based reform is slowly enacted, 200,000 inmates remain behind bars in overcrowded federal prisons costing millions of dollars each day. Fortunately, one proposed law may change that: the Smarter Sentencing Act.

Today, the average federal prison is overcrowded by 36 percent. In 2013, the total federal prison system had a capacity rated to hold 132,221 inmates, yet there were 176,484 inmates behind federal bars that year. In some correctional institutions, the inmate population has been50 percent over the rated capacity.

The reason for this overcrowding is in part due to drug laws, and more specifically, mandatory minimum sentencing laws. While initially intended to deter drug use with harsh sentences, mandatory minimums have instead led to a surge of non-violent drug offenders locked in federal penitentiaries without any possibility to negotiate their sentencing.

Drug offenders are now given prison time as part of their sentences at much higher rates than prior to 1986, when Congress established mandatory minimum drug sentences. Moreover, the length of time drug offenders spend in prison has largely increased — drug offenders in federal prison in 2013 were facing an average sentence of 11 years (at a cost of $79 per day for each inmate).

In 2013, more people were admitted to federal prison under drug charges than for any other crime. In fact, nearly half of all current federal prisoners are serving sentences for drug crimes. A main reason for this is because mandatory minimums result in more guilty convictions by shifting discretion from judges to prosecutors. On top of this, drug laws are filled with disparities that result in inordinate convictions.

Take, for example, the sentencing established for drug offenders found guilty of cocaine possession. While the only difference between crack and powdered cocaine is a bit of baking soda and the method of ingestion, the Controlled Substances Act mandates a minimum five-year.

Read the rest at The Hill…