Waiting for Turgot
edited: Monday, October 14, 2002
By Edward H. Clarke
Posted: Monday, October 14, 2002
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Some of the broader, philosophical aspects of my work. A Forward follows -- see URL at conclusion for full article.
WAITING FOR TURGOT:
TALES OF POLITICAL ECONOMY
by Edward H. Clarke
"Esperanto, par specila instrumento"
"One who hopes, with a special instrument"
TALES OF POLITICAL ECONOMY
Part I: "Red"
(1) The Practice of Social Art
(2) Waiting for Turgot
Part II: "White"
(3) L'An 2440: View from A Phalanstery
(4) View from Port-au-Prince (1987)
(5) View from A Red Brick Building (1995)
Part III: "Blue"
(6) A Political Economy of Memory and Hope
(6) Epilogue: "L'An 2001"
This work is about the theory and practice of politics, including "a strict theory of politics" and the practice of a "rational social art". The practice aims at incentive-compatible design of institutions, using the demand-revealing process by way of example. The work is written to stir political entrepreneurship, aimed at social change and a philosophy of hope.
The demand revealing process has been called a "new and superior" process for making social choices. I approach the development of the idea from the viewpoint of "concretizing utopia" and "heresthetics" (the art of political entreprenuership). In these contexts, I present a vision of the demand revealing process as a means of practicing a more rational social art in the next century and beyond. The vision is admittedly somewhat utopian, even though following a modern conception of Ernst Bloch, it is a "utopia of the concrete", Simply put, the book presents ways of dealing with problems of information and incentive (and bounded rationality) that provide paths toward out individual and collective utopias.
The book aims particularly at "concretizing utopia" in terms of a "political economy of mobility". It is aimed at demonstrating the use of the demand revealing process in designing intergovernmental and private sector arrangements affecting the movement of people, goods and services. The initial focus of the work has been largely on domestic and international air travel.
The book is also, in large part, a personal memoir aimed at the "anticipatory consciousness" of prospective practitioners of social art. It brings my perspective of some 25 years of travel (wanderings) in the policymaking sphere to what could constitute useful practice of social art. It interprets both "theory" and "the practice of social art" for a non-technical audience and is aimed at policymakers. The book ranges across an ideological landscape, from Marx to Mises. This is natural because the heart of the problem being addressed is the possibility of "rational calculation in the socialist community" (Mises, 1920) which was also the subject of my earlier book (see Clarke, 1980 and 2000, chapter I).
What kind of political philosophy is it? It depends, as I often suggest to students. Having returned to the domestic bureaucracy or civil service in Washington, D. C. in late 1988, I have often had the opportunity to instruct students (interns or other new co-workers) in dealing with public policy problems. They often inquire about my political philosophy to which I reply. "I'm a libertarian socialist". But they (Alice figuratively) would say; That's impossible, isn't it? To which I usually reply: "Yes, but only in reality. In reality, I am a moderate liberal heresthetician."
As this work tries to show, there is no fundamental contradiction in the philosophy of incentive-compatible libertarian socialism, although there may be in political reality. In reality, one looks at politics as the art of the possible. I have tried to keep in mind what is possible in advocating an approach to institutional design built upon the modern theory of incentive compatibility which is a means of better taking account of individual preferences in making social choices. (For readers with no knowledge of incentive compatibility and demand revealing, the basic concept are presented in a brief appendix at http://www.pair.com/flower1/example.html
For students of philosophy, of politics and the concrete realities of economics, the policy sciences, and "heresthetics", I have written this book in order to stimulate greater interest in the art of incentive compatible institutional design -- the practice of a more rational "social art", if you will. I propose an approach to design that will explain a lot of contradictions, a lot which I have worked out in my own character and mind over the last 8 years.
In drawing together and sharing fragments that I had written over the years, I learned a lot about my character in relation to society. The work reflects a strong desire to create more workable communities and more "user friendly" networks among them. Often I use the metaphors of Utopian literature -- for example the Utopian communities or phalansteries of someone like Charles Fourier. By background and historical accident, I am not much of a social architect and am often guided more by the spirit of a Bestiat who eschewed the efforts of the system builders while constructing his own "economic harmonies". This work demonstrates how the two conflicting philosophies might be reconciled, and how, as I tried to demonstrate in my 1980 book, how capitalism and socialism could be reconciled within the framework of modern representative democracy.
By way of background, I had started my working career (around 1965) working on the economics of new towns and became a fan of sorts of Ebenezer Howard's "garden cities". I did not realize then what these communities would become some 30 years later as I now explore modern sociological criticisms of the economic and political realities that have transpired in these communities during the intervening years. During that early career, I also tried the economics of building new airports (indeed a third international airport for Chicago about 8 miles out in Lake Michigan during the late 1960s). During my subsequent working in State Government in Illinois, I was instrumental in not having the Lake Airport built, and of avoiding the building of any airport for some 30 more years. During the time I was working on "new towns" and a "new airport", I discovered demand revelation, the implementation of which is largely the subject of this book.
To try to demonstrate how a single idea puts capitalism and socialism together and has relevance for the planning and management of communities and of networks (i. e. of roads and airports), one runs the risk of appearing to be infected with a certain degree of "monomania", a possibility I alluded to in the first chapter of the earlier book. This is, in part, the confessions of a "monomaniac". There is something often comical or tragic about the belief that a single idea can cure the world's ills. If I did not pursue this work sensibly, it could likely rank among one of the good tragicomedies of our time, but still have enough entertainment value to win some kind of prize in such a competition. Maybe it could be bowdlerized by others to compete in the new millennial competitions and called something like the 21st century public accountant or public administrator and sell some (if not much less) than the sales of the 21st Century stockbroker (a book I have recently seen on the shelves across the street from the White House).
As a serious piece of work, trying to avert tragedy or comedy, I am seeking to prepare a serious piece of utopian scholarship that induces the use of demand revealing decision techniques in the practice of governing institutions. During this millennium, we have seen about 500 years of serious utopian scholarship and I to influence the work of the next 500 years in ways that will bear more fruit in terms of practical application. The work is a serious attempt at selling the "pivotal mechanism" or "Clarke tax" mechanism (named after myself) as a method of organizing collective activity and achieving a future that might otherwise continue to be regarded as Utopian, instead of a philosophy (and way of implementing it) of the "here and now".
Manuel and Manuel (1979) in writing about the "Utopian propensity" noted that paradoxically the great Utopians have been great realists. "They have an extraordinary comprehension of the time and place in which they are writing and deliver themselves of powerful reflections on socioeconomic, scientific and emotional conditions and their meaning in history... without taking leave of reality, utopians have performed symbolic acts to dramatize their break with the present".
I conceived of the book in November, 1987 in a house on a mountaintop next to the French embassy in Port au Prince Haiti. My cook had returned from the elections of November 27 with a story that he had seen at least 5 people killed (machine gunned) at the polls. I was then seething with a militant (utopian) optimism which I briefly describe below.
Over the course of a few weeks I had conceived of this work which I had entitled "Sketches" (or Esquisse) after Condercet's last work. I wanted to provide a sketch of sorts involving about 25 years of "reflections on political economy" followed by a second part of the book which suggested directions for a "rehabilitation of the political economy". Over the succeeding years, the work took a more modest direction and was entitled "A Political Economy of Mobility".
In reconstructing and seriously pursuing this work during the intervening eight years (having worked out an application to management of the Nation's air travel system), I decided that I would have to try somehow to become a more effective apostle of change. (If not an active agent of change, then I wish to try to stimulate such agents). Change is a word that creates deep conflicts, even moral ones, for myself and society. In my spiritual development, I constantly hear that it is the single greatest ingredient of "progress". The other ingredient is "living in the moment", which when taken together with change, has often struck me as problematic, if not a contradiction. In any case, the idea of change over much of the last year became a sort of intellectual and spiritual pursuit of sorts in which I integrated my ideas for practical application of demand revealing under the broad rubric of "mobility policy" and linked these to the philosophers of the enlightenment, mainly the Baron Turgot, the great "progressivist" and apostle of change in the ancient regime of prerevolutionary France. How I work this out in my attempt to find myself as an agent of change appears in Chapter 2 of this work, entitled "Waiting for Turgot". It is also reconciled there in terms of the "stay awhile" of the Faust legend which drives the spirit, and much of the content, of the work.
Between 1995 and now (Y2K), this has been a work in progress, consisting of what appears here and my work to implement demand revealing in aviation management institutions. It is tied to the kind of intellectual calling I espouse in Part I of the book and which my work on applications of demand revealing tries to illustrate. This involves the practice of social art, in a manner foreshadowed by Turgot and carried forward in the work of Condercet.
In reality, of course, one must put the pursuit of the rational social art in some perspective. The poet and philosopher Goethe during the early 1800s was fascinated with the ideas of the physiocrats (of Turgot, Adam Smith and others) as well as the ideas of Condercet as carried forth by Saint Simon and others.
But Goethe, for one, interpreted and practiced the implementation of ideas reasonably. In this context, I am a moderate liberal heresthetician. As Goethe observed towards the end of his life (in conversations with Eckerman) and in speaking about the English and Swiss utilitarians (Bentham and Dumont), "Dumont, you see, is a moderate liberal, as all reasonable people are, or should be. I myself am one, as I have tried to practice all my life."
The reconciliation of the practice of social art with the political theory (centering on the demand revealing process) that I espouse in this work reflects, at bottom, the spirit of Goethe's philosophy and "stay awhile" approach to the art of public administration.
The art of public administration, however, is not ideology free, nor are the ethical foundations of ideas on implementing demand revealing that are espoused in the several books of this work.
The book (particularly Parts II and III) is also about the "ethical" foundations of the demand revealing process, which has strong normative content. Around 1997, in a short article on "some aspects of the demand revealing process, I defended it in Benthamite terms (i. e. cost avoidance relative to existing institutions). It was to my mind, in the lexicon of Bentham, a means of providing "security" (against the tyranny of the majority) and achieving political economy in the sense of the "expenses" of the State.
Twenty years later, my thoughts on the evolution of the idea had evolved into a social philosophy about change and about the processes of "concretizing utopia" in the sense of personal striving, involving both self and society. This is a set of philosophical reflections on advancement of ideas in the liberal-humanitarian style of Turgot and Condercet. But this style can be compared and contrasted with other styles -- Chiliaistic, conservative or socialist-communist. (See Mannheim, 1936). Part II sets forth these philosophical reflections in the context of several approaches towards "concretizing utopia" utilizing a philosophy (or principles) of Hope (Bloch, 1986). The way in which this is done tests the potential success or failure of what I espouse, determining whether incentive compatibility improves the "prospects of scientific politics" (Mannheim, 1936).
The tensions in these philosophic reflections obviously bear on the composition of the book and its underlying ideology. I do not pretend that a work on the practice of social art will be free of ideology, though my rendition of it may be more explicit (about the underlying ideology) than others. Perhaps more than anything, however, I seek to present "the Practice" in a form that will be useful and stimulating to practitioners both outside of and inside the United States.
When the work began in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in late 1987, it was filled with a much more passionate, if militant optimism, that may have resembled Condercet's last work (Esquisse). I was infected with a combination of liberation theology and disgust, bordering on Chiliaism. Almost a decade later, it is more reflective, less passionate and more guided by the burgeois liberalism of the practicing American economist. The more passionate liberal optimism has been relegated to a final Part III for family and friends, so that I can enjoy a meaningful dialogue with social scientists or practitioners of public policy in the United states, somewhat free of the "militant optimism" that still infects the philosophic foundations of this work. The "optimism" has been at least turned inward and is strongly conditioned by the American Ethos and the possibilities facing the moderate liberal practice of political economy in the United States today.
What is different from the directions taken in my work up to 1980 and now can perhaps be understood in the epilogue to this book. Happy Valley (borrowed from Foldvary, 1995) is enjoying a birth of an "anticipatory consciousness" (embedded in hope) that results from participation in the shaping of community decisions, work and living experiences, and the network of systems (communications, transportation) that extend beyond the territorial boundaries of Happy Valley. What is happening in Happy Valley at the beginning of the new millennium is concrete and the mechanisms used for collective decisions do not appear all that different from what its residents have become accustomed to using in the past.
If you asked the average resident: "Where are you going?", he or she might reply: "Nowhere, we're now here". The residents of Happy Valley are living in the moment, in the true "Stay Awhile" of the here and now. This is the moment (Faust, Part I) for which the protagonist will gladly sell his soul.
Living in the moment in the archaic theories of public economics, and translating these into public policy is both an exciting and daunting task. I began to find a philosophy of hope (the "stay awhile" philosophy) alternating between transportation regulatory management responsibilities on which I worked and the Flower (Happy?) Valley where I lived over the last 15 years, interspersed with living in an autocracy (Morocco) and Haiti (then an anarchy or kleptocracy). I began to see a link (or have a vision) between community building, transportation (road and airport projects) and consequent voyages to Erehwon (nowhere) which are communicated in this work. I continue to believe Ereh (here) can be "won" (now) in the "anticipatory consciousness" and "stay awhile" of the lived moment of the here and now.
In the way of two concluding notes, this work (in its current form) was inspired around 1993 by a short paper by Gordon Tullock which he presented at the Henry Simons Society and later at the Mont Pelerin Society, entitled "Consent?" Professor Tullock and I share a common interest in community governance (whether on Sunshine Mountain or Flower (happy) Valley and transportation networks as well as the various paths to Erehwon in "a world where our options are limited and Erehwon is nowhere."
As a "conservative" utopian tract, the work is colored in the red, white and blue that covered material that I wrote (Private Enterprise, Urban Policy) or oversaw the preparation of in the Agency for International Development during the early 1980s. I aspired at some future time to write my own red, white and blue which covers (colors) this work. Part I is red, the "red dawning" of the revolutionary consciousness which is then translated into the more conservative white of practical application and cold rational analysis. The eventual blue of evening is a philosophy of hope, and hopefully of wisdom.
See URL below for remaining 2 parts of the essay