#52 - Prof Glen Weyl on uprooting capitalism and democracy for a just society
Pro-market economists love to wax rhapsodic about the capacity of markets to pull together the valuable local information spread across all of society about what people want and how to make it.
But when it comes to politics and voting - which also aim to aggregate the preferences and knowledge found in millions of individuals - the enthusiasm for finding clever institutional designs often turns to skepticism.
Today's guest, freewheeling economist Glen Weyl, won't have it, and is on a warpath to reform liberal democratic institutions in order to save them. Just last year he wrote Radical Markets: Uprooting Capitalism and Democracy for a Just Society with Eric Posner, but has already moved on, saying "in the 6 months since the book came out I've made more intellectual progress than in the whole 10 years before that."
Weyl believes we desperately need more efficient, equitable and decentralised ways to organise society, that take advantage of what each person knows, and his research agenda has already been making breakthroughs.
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Despite a history in the best economics departments in the world - Harvard, Princeton, Yale and the University of Chicago - he is too worried for the future to sit in his office writing papers. Instead he has left the academy to try to inspire a social movement, RadicalxChange, with a vision of social reform as expansive as his own.
You can sign up for their conference in Detroit in March here
Economist Alex Tabarrok called his latest proposal, known as 'liberal radicalism', "a quantum leap in public-goods mechanism-design" - we explain how it works in the show. But the proposal, however good in theory, might struggle in the real world because it requires large subsidies, and compensates for people's selfishness so effectively that it might even be an overcorrection.
An earlier mechanism - 'quadratic voting' (QV) - would allow people to express the relative strength of their preferences in the democratic process. No longer would 51 people who support a proposal, but barely care about the issue, outvote 49 incredibly passionate opponents, predictably making society worse in the process. We explain exactly how in the episode.
Weyl points to studies showing that people are more likely to vote strongly not only about issues they *care* more about, but issues they *know* more about. He expects that allowing people to specialise and indicate when they know what they're talking about will create a democracy that does more to aggregate careful judgement, rather than just passionate ignorance.
But these and indeed all of Weyl's ideas have faced criticism. Some say the risk of unintended consequences is too great, or that they solve the wrong problem. Others see these proposals as unproven, impractical, or just another example of an intellectual engaged in grand social planning. I raise these concerns to see how he responds.
As big a topic as all of that is, this extended conversation also goes into the blockchain, problems with the effective altruism community and how auctions could replace private property. Don't miss it.
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The 80,000 Hours Podcast is produced by Keiran Harris.