The Great Antidote

Steven Teles on Liberaltarianism

July 07, 2023 Juliette Sellgren
Steven Teles on Liberaltarianism
The Great Antidote
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The Great Antidote
Steven Teles on Liberaltarianism
Jul 07, 2023
Juliette Sellgren

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Steven Teles is a professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University and a senior fellow at the Niskanen Center. Today he defines and talks to us about a few words, including “liberaltarianism” – explaining how it diverges from libertarianism with an intellectual history and why – and “kludgeocracy”.

We talk about the complexities of government organization and the causes- including regulatory capture, and he tells us what he envisions to be potential solutions.

Be sure to check out Kevin Lavery's Great Antidote Extra on this episode.

Want to explore more?
Steven Teles on Kludgeocracy, an EconTalk podcast.
Brink Lindsey, Liberaltarians, at The New Republic.
Brink Lindsey and Steven Teles on the Captured Economy, an EconTalk podcast.
Kevin Corcoran, Body Snatchers and Regulatory Capture, at EconLog.
Peter Boettke on Public Administration, Liberty, and the Proper Role of Government, an EconTalk podcast.

Never miss another AdamSmithWorks update.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


Show Notes Transcript

Send us a Text Message.

Steven Teles is a professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University and a senior fellow at the Niskanen Center. Today he defines and talks to us about a few words, including “liberaltarianism” – explaining how it diverges from libertarianism with an intellectual history and why – and “kludgeocracy”.

We talk about the complexities of government organization and the causes- including regulatory capture, and he tells us what he envisions to be potential solutions.

Be sure to check out Kevin Lavery's Great Antidote Extra on this episode.

Want to explore more?
Steven Teles on Kludgeocracy, an EconTalk podcast.
Brink Lindsey, Liberaltarians, at The New Republic.
Brink Lindsey and Steven Teles on the Captured Economy, an EconTalk podcast.
Kevin Corcoran, Body Snatchers and Regulatory Capture, at EconLog.
Peter Boettke on Public Administration, Liberty, and the Proper Role of Government, an EconTalk podcast.

Never miss another AdamSmithWorks update.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


Juliette Sellgren 


Science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition. Hi, I'm Juliette Sellgren and this is my podcast, the Great Antidote- named for Adam Smith, brought to you by Liberty Fund. To learn more, visit www.AdamSmithWorks.org. Welcome back. Today we're going to be talking about not libertarianism, but liberaltarianism and regulatory capture and got another fun one for you. I'm excited to welcome Steven Teles to the podcast to talk to us about this today. He is a professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University and a senior fellow at the Neon Center. Welcome to the podcast.

Steven Teles 


Thanks for having me on, Juliette.

Juliette Sellgren 


So before we jump in, what is the most important thing that people my age or my generation should know that we don't?

Steven Teles (1.06)


Oh gosh, there's a million things that old people like me could tell young people they ought to be doing. But I actually think the most immediately useful is just like everyone should be doing internships as early as they can. And part of that is especially if you're thinking maybe one day you'll be in jobs that don't have completely straightforwardly college admissions looking like application processes. A lot of the way that people get jobs is through networks and relationships and people knowing who you are and looking out for you. And this was a subject of a really classic piece of sociology called the Strength of Weak Ties that was written years ago at the Johns Hopkins University. And that's the way people get jobs in things like think tanks and on the hill and in public policy and in lots of things like that. And the earlier you're building that network of people who are looking out for you and who are advising you and who are old people who are giving you advice but also suggesting places to go.


So much of that part of the job world is networked rather than hierarchical and meritocratic and internships are the best way to build those networks and relationships. And the same thing is actually true even on campus. You should be showing up in your professor's offices, you should be doing that too. Intellectually you're paying a lot of money and a lot of the value comes from one-on-one relationships. But when you do that, your professors also start looking for you and thinking that they want to help you more than just the way that the college careers office does, which is usually not very helpful. So I think internships, talking to professors, everything you do that sort of builds those networks that both help you find jobs, but that give you advice to is probably the best simple piece of advice I can give you.

Juliette Sellgren 


Very practical. I was going to say, especially in DC, but when you mentioned universities, I think that that's very true. I think someone on the podcast recently, I don't remember exactly who or when mentioned that even at Harvard students weren't as evidently showing up and showing their interests. And so professors are looking for these kids to invest in and they're just not quite there. So I don't know, I'd be interested to see if you think that that's the case.

Steven Teles (3.54)


Oh, that's certainly true. I mean the students who take even the little step of asking me to go for coffee after class, there's probably no question that I invest more in them. And I like giving advice to students. I like helping them find internships. And again, the Hopkins is a little odd in that we're a quick train trip from DC so my relationships and networks are more valuable in that way. But yeah, and again, I think students are often afraid or they're intimidated, but professors really love, that's the part of the job I actually think they like the most is the building those individual relationships with students. And I think it really matters. It matters not just for writing recommendations, but it matters for all the other kind of things that professors can do for you.

Juliette Sellgren 


It, it's funny to me, I guess I grew up around a lot of scholars and thinkers, so I was never super afraid in this way. But meeting students who are also afraid of talking to professors, I'm like, think about it. The two things they do for a living is think and talk and maybe they write, why on earth would you think that they wouldn't want to talk to you? I just think it's half the job description.

Steven Teles (5.13)


Well, I mean academia is odd in that, I mean there's a huge percentage of professors whose parents themselves were professors and I think that's not an accident because they can imagine what it would be like to be a professor. I think for people who didn't come from that background, it often seems so intimidating and it seems so far away and people have self-doubt and think that everybody must be smarter than them, which is not true. Whereas the kids of what you might think of as the academic equivalent of military brats often don't have that because they're like, oh, professors are just the people who were over at our house for dinner and who I played with after school and stuff. So

Juliette Sellgren 


Yeah, it's also your professor. I tell this to, people are on finals, there's no way your professors got a hundred percents on every single exam they ever took in the subject they teach. If they did, that's crazy. And that's probably one in a million maybe, but I doubt it.

Steven Teles (6.16)


I was a terrible student. Maybe this gets into the bio part of our conversation, but I had a 2.6 GPA when I applied for college. I was a really atrocious high school student and then was a better, but then still not 3.9 student when I was an undergrad at GW. And I don't think I was even the world's best grad student in my first year or so in grad school. It was only when I didn't have to do stuff, I didn't want to do that. I started getting better. Whereas my wife, I think of as a kind of a real all rounder, she was the one who was always good in everything. And whereas I was very much not interested in anything I was not interested in. And so the longer I got into higher education, the more I didn't have to do all that other stuff I didn't want to do.

Juliette Sellgren 


And now you've made it all the way to my podcast!

Steven Teles 


There you go. So this is it. I can hang my spurs up after this.

Juliette Sellgren (07:28):


Nah, you got a long way to go. No, I'm kidding. Alright, so let's kind of follow along this biographical. Biographical, yeah, I guess that's right path. I first learned of you through a piece you wrote on, I thought to myself, so this is a guy who likes to invent words. Then I discovered that you also use the word liberal, so you seem to be a fan of the emergent order of language. So I'm laughing to myself about this econ joke that I've made to myself. Let's start with some definitions, I guess. What is a liberaltarian? How did you come to be a liberaltarian?

Steven Teles (8.10)


So I'm not a political theorist, I'm a political scientist and a more historical institutional political scientist. So I'm going to give you a story about the emergence of the term rather than giving you an abstract definition of the term. So the term was invented by my very good friend and longtime collaborator Brink Lindsey, who used to be at the Cato Institute and is now my colleague at the Niskanen Center. And this was quite a long time ago. This is back in the two thousands. He wrote an article for the New Republic called Liberaltarians. And this again was when he was still at Cato. So he was still in the belly of the beast of libertarianism. He was right there in mortar or whatever you would call that. And he was looking around and saying the libertarian movement had been in a kind of strange but uncomfortable coalition by that point with the Republican party and with conservatism.


And again, you would be the first person to know that was always a very uncomfortable relationship. But most people in libertarian world did think in some ways that they were on something called the right. Again, very uncomfortable sometimes on the outside. And what Brink said in that article was actually Libertarians should think about themselves as having much more in common with the left. And now this was a little bit easier, this I guess it was the aftermath of the Iraq war. So foreign policy was a lot more central then than you would think of it now in terms of people's ideological definition. And so he said, look, certainly on foreign policy, libertarians have a lot more in common with the left than they do with neo-conservatives. But he said on matters of personal or sort of sexual freedom, they've got a lot more in common.


And he was saying in the period of Clintonism that they had a lot more in common on. They were increasingly having things more in common on trade and other issues. And so liberaltarianism I think initially for Brink was more of a kind of political or coalitional idea. It was the idea that Libertarians should just continue to be as libertarian as they always were, but should think about their future coalition partners as being more on the left than on the right. Now again, this is partially is just as a story of Brink's own development and then I kind of join in at one point over time, I think Brink just having made that first step, started to realize that on a broader range of issues, he was not as much of a partner in what you might think of as full spectrum libertarianism. I think some of that may have been on environmentalism.


And another figure in this was Jerry Taylor who was also at the Cato Institute who was becoming more skeptical of the libertarian line on climate change. He eventually left and founded the Niskanan Center, but I think Brink was also becoming more open to social insurance and the welfare state and the idea that the welfare state was not necessarily the enemy of free markets. And so I think having made that first almost kind of identitarian step away from a sort of coalitional idea of libertarianism, then other parts of the overall libertarian package began to seem like they were less coherent than he had previously thought of the males. And I think that the other thing to mention that was going on here is there was also a movement called Bleeding Heart Libertarians who were trying to think about in particular Rawls, for example, Rawls in Hayek or Rawls in Nozick is not necessarily oppositional, but that there are ways to think about libertarian means to egalitarian or Rawlsian ends.


So that's a thing that's floating around in the ether at the same time. Now again, a lot of those people thought of themselves still as quite libertarian because their initial move was simply to say, yeah, if you want to end up having the kind of Rawlsian framework where you want to have the greatest wealth or income for the least advantage, well free markets give you that. So libertarianism is basically the same thing as Ian when you actually look at it empirically. But I think that was an opening to people starting to think about the ideas of social justice is not being in opposition to at least some of their legacy libertarianism. Now I joined in with this basically when I moved to dc I moved to DC in 2007 and I had always been kind of a moderate Democrat, moderate liberal, this gets to biography, but I was kind of a liberal who was trained by conservatives. So I went for my PhD at the University of Virginia, blah, blah. And I studied with great really great conservatives, Jim Caesar, Steven Rhodes, Martha Doha, who was my dissertation advisor.

Juliette Sellgren 


Wait, I’m Steven Rhodes' research assistant currently.

Steven Teles (14.33)


Oh wow. Yeah, no, Steve was a great guy and a really huge influence on me. And later on we will get was a big influence on the ideas that later on became my book with Brink called The Captured Economy. So I first learned my economics under Steve, who was a political scientist but was trained by the great Alfred Kahn at Cornell. So I'd always been sort of in that. And so I came to this liberaltarian synthesis more from the liberal side, whereas Brink came to it more from something closer to what you might think of as right libertarianism. And so over time, Brink and I through talking and engaging and eventually we ended up running under a bunch of different auspices first at Cato and then under others a libertarian dinner series in DC that we've been running for a very long time that's now jointly run by Niskanen and my center at John Hopkins, the Center for Economy and Society.


And I think just talking and meeting and running this thing over years cause Brink and I to kind of meld together into one brain. And so if you think about what liberaltarianism is, it's in some ways the product of that very long intellectual partnership that Brink and I have had where we are trying to synthesize more or less liberal or left liberal concern about social justice and social mobility with a very large appreciation for markets and market ordering and trying to figure out what that all sort of cashes out to in terms of public policy.

Juliette Sellgren 


This is like liberty lore, it's so exciting. Why is this the best word for it, I guess why not a left libertarian or liberal or progressive?

Steven Teles (16.39)


I would prefer to just call it liberal. So I think liberal makes more sense. And so when I think of the intellectual legacy of my ideas, I think of there being a long liberal tradition that goes all the way back to Hume and Smith. I think of myself very much as a Smithian and Smith was deeply concerned about social justice my friend and now collaborator at the Center for Economy and Society. Glory Liu just recently published a brilliant book about Adam Smith instead of a reception history of Adam Smith in America called Adam Smith's America. And I think of Smith, Hume, especially John Stuart Mill, who in some ways was also trying to think about how liberalism should respond to the challenge of socialism. That's a lot of Mill's project was thinking about that. And I think John Maynard Keynes in his own way was also trying to think about how to preserve the liberal project in an era in which many of the institutions, including things like the gold standard and austerity and other things turned out to be averse to the preservation of liberal institutions.


So I think of myself as a liberal and liberaltarianism in a way. One way to think about it is libertarianism was a kind of radicalization of liberalism. So the original root is this liberal tradition and libertarianism is, and again there's other people who have other genealogies of this, but it's something that kind of radicalizes in various moments. John Tomasi has a new book on this, which maybe you're going to do a podcast on at some point, but I think of it as really a post-war phenomenon or post new deal where a kind of radicalized in some sense quite extreme version of liberalism that is much less open to things like social insurance and the welfare state, which I think of as actually highly consistent with liberalism and highly consistent with the preservation of a market order. But it decides that all of that really is impossible and that you need a purified version.


And so that's the tradition that certainly goes back to Ayn Rand one version of Hayek, although I think of Hayek as very much actually in this more liberal, not so much libertarian tradition. So I have a liberal reading of Hayek as opposed to a libertarian reading of Hayek. So I think of there really being as three fundamental traditions out there. There's a kind of conservative tradition, there's a liberal tradition and there's a socialist tradition. And the liberal tradition is not just a more moderate version of socialism, it's a really distinct tradition. It's got a distinct vision of the welfare state. It's got a distinct tradition about belief in markets. And conservatism, as you would know, is a distinct tradition from liberalism, although there are conservatives who are more liberal conservatives or conservative liberals. But I think of myself as I dislike just liberal. Liberal works perfectly fine for me.

Juliette Sellgren 


It's funny because if you think about liberaltarian as Brink's prediction, you can kind of see it playing out today with the supply side progressives, which I think is kind of interesting.

Steven Teles (20.40)


So supply side progressives I've had a lot in, I've been very much in that conversation. And now some of that is what we think of as modern political democratic party liberalism is a kind of grab bag of a bunch of stuff that cohered at a particular moment in history and then people had to figure out some argument for why it all fit together. So we had one vision of sort of very procedural liberalism, procedural environmentalism that was part of that, that was very skeptical of markets, very skeptical really of economic growth. And it was in the coalition with the people who were in favor of abortion rights and in favor of affirmative action and in favor of this and that social program. And the Democratic party is a kind of coalition or a law girl of all those people who happen to cohere kind of in the 1970s into a new thing called Democratic party liberalism, which is not the same thing as the liberalism that I'm talking about.


So one advantage of liberaltarianism is it does make it clear that the thing I'm talking about is not the same thing as standard issue democratic party liberalism, but I think supply side progressivism at least rhymes with liberaltarianism in that we are skeptical of a lot of procedural which has become associated with modern liberalism with a particular kind of legalism that's become associated with modern liberalism, but certainly the supply side progressives. And there's a whole bunch of Jerusalem Desis [?] who I'm close friends with, and Ezra Klein who I've known forever and Derek Thompson, there's a whole bunch of these people. A lot of those are basically liberals who a lot of it is coming from environmentalism have just recognized that they can't build all the stuff that they want to build in order to deal with climate change through all of the inherited liberal legal procedural. And that the things they want to build will require rethinking a lot of the regulatory state that liberals built in the 1970s. And that's one where again, we're not completely aligned, but there's a really broad range of things that we can talk about. And I'm hoping that eventually people will realize that they're in the same project that we are.

Juliette Sellgren 


Speaking of procedural, what on earth is kludgeocracy. [?]

Steven Teles (23.47)


So again, this is another one where I'll tell a story rather than giving an abstract definition before I was at the Niskanen center and very, very appreciative was a fellow for a few years at the New America Foundation and I was friends there with Mike Lind who was one of the founders of the New America Foundation. And he had a project that was coming to an end and he had a few thousand dollars left in the project and I had a few conversations with him about this general idea of complexity and accumulation and the accretion of complexity in government. And Mike said, if you write this up for me, I think within a month I'll pay you a few thousand dollars and clear out this grant. And so I said, okay, well that sounds like something I'll do. And so I did it, I wrote this as a white paper for New America and that you've all been who I had written for before at National Affairs asked me to turn it into a national affairs essay.


And the basic argument of that essay was that across a whole bunch of different dimensions of public policy, regardless of what we're doing in the United States, we tend to do it in the most complicated and hard to understand an indirect way. So one example of this is in healthcare in Britain where my wife is from, they have national health insurance and which is free at the point of care. So there's a lot of complexity behind the screen, but from where the person who's actually getting cared for, they go into a doctor or they go into a hospital and they don't pay anything and they just get cared for. In the United States, we have Medicare, Medicaid, we have hospitals that provide free or reduced care, we have employer provided health insurance, we have HSAs, we have all this complicated set of institutions and we spend the most in the world for healthcare.


And that's largely because we have really four or five separate systems for providing for health. And all of the edges of them all connect up and complicated ways Medicaid pays for healthcare for poor people. It also pays for an enormous amount of long-term care for people who've spent down all their assets too. That's because we don't have any system for paying for long-term care. So we've sort of taken some other program and repurposed it for that. But the consequences that the system one's complicated, nobody understands it. Second, it's so fractured that nobody can actually exercise cost control.


And because it's so complicated that people are cared for in various different parts, we don't have any solidarity around any particular part of the system. And when you think about what Obamacare did, Obamacare took all that and then it added another layer. It added all these exchanges which are now another piece of that complicated system. And that's what we do on almost everything. And that's partially a consequence of American institutions that it's really hard to legislate and it's really hard to get rid of things we've already got. So whenever we try to do anything, we usually layer new things on top of old things rather than getting rid of old things. And when you do that long enough, you end up with a big complicated kind of mess. And that's what I was describing, kludgeoocracy healthcare is just one dimension of that, but you can see it in all kinds of other areas.

Juliette Sellgren 


What I love about kludgeocracy is it just sounds so right. You're like, ah, that's just so kludgy it fits.

Steven Teles (28.25)


It was derived from a CLU is a thing from computer programming where people can't go and just start all over again. So they had a patch as anybody who used to use Microsoft Windows knew yet they kept sending you these patches which would come and fix some problem that somebody had identified. But then the patch became part of the system, which with often unintended and unpredictable consequences that then you then had to patch the patch. And that patching the patch of the patch is basically a good description of what a lot of American governance looks like. And I tell people, I often tell people on the right that this is partially a consequence of the separation of powers that conservatives often think of as the way to constrain the growth of government. But once you've already got big government separation of powers then has this totally other effect, which is to lock in what you've already got. So separation of powers does make it hard to grow government, but it also makes it hard to shrink it.

Juliette Sellgren 


So I mean you've kind of touched on this in institutions and such, but what exactly about our institutions kind of cause kludgeocracy to come about?

Steven Teles (29.54)


Yeah, so the first, again, I think separation and powers just is really important. There's lots of veto points in our system and going back to the previous point on the way up, when you're growing government, those veto points make it hard to grow. But when you're trying to go back the other direction and undo stuff, you've got all those veto points can also be used by whoever is benefiting from what government's doing to stop things. And then the other part is once you do get government doing something, then groups grow up around that governmental activity who can also be part of that veto coalition. And what it means is the path of least resistance at any one time is always to buy in all the existing claimant groups who are connected to what government is already doing. And so it's a combination of the fact that point is connected to Mancur Olsen's idea of the logic of collective action, which is a long time libertarian favorite.


But he argued that over time groups generally tend to grow, they get benefits from government, they then lock those in. And government is more and more sort of a, you can think of as an army of Lilliputian tying down Gulliver, all these little very small interests but who have an extremely high degree of concentration of interest and they're much more likely to mobilize than large diffuse interests like people who want better healthcare or who want economic growth or whatever. And to a large degree, this is the Democratic party side. The Democratic party is in large part a coalition of all those, the people who already got theirs, who already got some interest. Higher educations in that largely in the Democratic party, already got a lot of what they want in subsidies and grants and student loans and everything else. And when you scratch the surface of a lot of the Democratic party, you find people who've already got an existing government program and are in politics mainly to preserve it.

Juliette Sellgren (32.31)


Interesting. I guess this kind of naturally lends itself to a conversation about the captured economy. So kind of getting into the people who have these interests, who is capturing the economy, and I guess not just how does it play into government, but how on one side do businesses and special interests do this, but then politicians on the other side, what are the institutional aspects of this that kind of incentivize politicians to do this, whether or not they're good people?

Steven Teles (33.07)


Yeah, so The Captured Economy, just to go back a second is the book that I wrote with Brink Lindsey in 2017. And this was, I do think it was a very libertarian book. It was a book that really came out of thinking about what, again, when we started this book, Brink was way more libertarian than he is now, and I probably was a little more liberal than I am now. And we were thinking about where's the point at which these two things could meet? And this was also a time when there was lots of conversation about inequality and what the sources of inequality were. And one thing that both Brink and I originally sort of independently had noticed is if you look at the 1%, the one that everybody had been complaining about at that time, a huge amount of the 1% turn out to be in highly regulated sectors.


Finance is a pervasively regulated sector on all kinds of dimensions subsidized through the tax code, regulated, protected through various forms of too big to fail the entire field of securitized. Finance is something that was really created by government and the mortgage sector and then has grown, but it's beyond finance. Obviously in healthcare, doctors are a big part of the 1% and they are an incredibly regulated and protected in fact self-regulated sector to a large degree. They determine who are going to be the future doctors and how many of them they're going to be and how long they have to get trained. When you get further down into the sturdy yeomanry of the 1%, you see things like car dealers, there's lots of car dealers in the 1%, and car dealers are almost completely a creature of regulation. We have these franchise laws that require car companies to sell their cars through car dealers rather than direct to consumers.


It's really unclear whether most of that car dealer business would be, would even exist if it weren't for that regulation. So the thing we said is everybody's out there talking about the 1% talking about the growth of inequality and they seem to be mostly talking about it as a spontaneous market phenomenon. And so Libertarians traditionally talked about inequality. So when they looked at just the overall phenomenon of inequality, they would usually go to saying that inequality is good, right? In some sense, the job of libertarians was to legitimate inequality by saying it's a result of what I guess the federalist called the diverse faculties of man, that people are just naturally different in what they can do. And in a free society, when people act on their diverse faculties of man, they're going to produce different things and that's good and that's the engine of progress.


But I always describe there being this weird conservative paradox, which is on the one hand, especially Libertarians spend all day talking about how mucked up the government is with regulation and protection and everything else. And on the other hand, they're out there saying that inequality is great and defending inequality, right? Well, if there is all this government involvement in the economy, it's impossible to imagine it wouldn't show up in inequality. And that's a lot of what the argument of the captured economy is. If you really do care about inequality and the growth of inequality, then government is a particularly important original source of that. So the book was intended to the left to get them to think about regulation in particular as a cause of inequality, not just as a spontaneous market phenomenon and to the right to get them to be willing to actually take inequality seriously because inequality also itself has a effect on the degree to which people think that a market ordering is good.


And if you're not concerned about inequality, what you're going to find is that's going to produce populism, which almost always ends up turning into people trying to throw a spanner into the works of markets. So that's the long version of what the captured economy was, and it really was a thoroughly liberal Arian in the sense we were trying to create a kind of genuine left right synthesis, which I think in retrospect is just the liberal synthesis. That's really the synthesis that Adam Smith had a lot of Adam Smith is complaining about the various different kinds of existing yesterday's winners who want to use government to lock in their existing benefits.

Juliette Sellgren 


I know I haven't left a ton of time for solutions and I'm also clumping these two together. I'm making a clutch here, but it's a question clutch. I think it makes sense though. So I guess what are your proposed solutions to solve kludgeocracy and also regulatory capture? I mean, I think they could be prevented similarly or they kind of cause one another go hand in hand. So what are your thoughts?

Steven Teles (38.56)


Yeah, so I think it's also an interesting way to get into one other difference between liberalism and libertarianism. And that's that one, there's a strain. It's not the only strain in libertarianism that's pretty skeptical of democracy that thinks that the liberal order and the market order is great, but that it's always threatened by democracy itself. And in the book we admit that in some ways the Olsonian problem, the problem that government is going to get captured by small concentrated interest really is a bug in the democratic order. The democratic order is a majoritarian order, but this problem does not get created primarily by majoritarianism. And we talk about this as a deliberative problem that a lot of the ways that small concentrated groups are able to capture government, that represents a deliberative breakdown, a breakdown where all the information, all the attention is on one side and almost nothing's on the other.


So an example I love using is state dental boards in most every state, the dental profession, the per se dentistry is governed by a state dental board who's given enormous amount of authority and autonomy and discretion by state government. And it's not a surprise to find out that who happens to be on state dental boards, dentists, and that eventually they end up treating that governmental institution almost like just an extension of their private profession. And that's a deliberative breakdown. There are lots of reasons why we might think that the interests of dentists are not the same as the interest of people with teeth like you and me, although I'm not looking at you, so maybe you don't have teeth, but…

Juliette Sellgren 


I do, I swear.

Steven Teles 


Okay, good. Alright, well you're in the prote side of this. 

Juliette Sellgren 


I feel like I would talk a little funny if I didn't have teeth.

Steven Teles (41.28)


That may be. No, you would talk differently. We have to be careful to not stigmatize toothless. Right? So the problem is these decisions are made in very opaque, almost in private, behind closed doors kinds of ways where the decision makers are not themselves diverse in various different kind of ways. They're not presented with diverse information. The same thing is true in housing where lots of our decisions about building are all made by very small localities. The people who show up for decisions about whether to build housing are the people who don't want housing built. You grew up in the suburbs of DC this would not be surprising to you. I'm in the suburbs of DC. And so you get a deliberative problem, which is that all the information's coming from one side and very little is coming from the other, which is much broader and it is in fact the action, the real majority.


And so in the book we talk about various ways that you can try and solve, or at least ameliorate this problem, which really is a problem at the root of democracy itself. One of those is by subsidizing participation. So if you look at the school choice movement or school reform movement, a lot of what they were doing was helping to subsidize interests and information on the other side from the teacher's union. In this case, the teacher union is the parallel to neighborhood groups who don't want housing built or dentists who don't want deregulated dental provision. And so what they did is they went and helped create a network of pro school reform organizations, national think tanks, magazines, all this stuff that could provide legislators with different information, the information that was not the same as that was being provided by the teachers union. So I think that's one thing is creating more diverse sources of information and participation.


The YIMBY movement and housing is a good example of this, right? The yes in my backyard movement of people who are now increasingly showing up at local zoning board meetings and things and telling people that there's more than just the opinion of the people who don't want housing built. The other thing is change in venue. When you have decisions made in very small, opaque behind the scenes ways, it's not surprising that you get deliberative breakdown in California. They're moving a lot of these housing decisions from very small, tiny localities and bring them up to the state level. And as Madison said, when you extend the sphere, you take in a broader group of interest. And that's exactly what's happening in California. The interests of renters and people who want more housing are now being valued much more strongly because the locus of decision-making is increasingly at the state level.


So those are a couple. And then the final thing, which I think is where we are a little bit more old school libertarianism in the book we have in The Captured Economy, one of our subheadings is what we call egalitarian Lochner, which is a term that might make sense to you from being in the business but wouldn't for others. But Lochner was this tradition in the early 20th century of where the Supreme Court was reading very narrowly the economic liberty provisions in the Constitution and striking down a lot of governmental regulation. And we argue in the book that especially if you think about a lot of these kind of protectionist regulation, that a lot of them really should be looked at more carefully by courts. And that the standard of justification for these forms of regulation, we shouldn't just assume that they represent the public interest because this phenomenon of concentrated interests capture probably explains where they came from. More than that, they came from a kind of unified democratic public will.

Juliette Sellgren 


Thank you so much for taking the time to come on my podcast. I wish we could talk about this and so much more, even more, but we are running low on time, so I have one last question for you. Okay. What is one thing that you believed at one time in your life that you later changed your position on and why?

Steven Teles (46.25)


Oh gosh, that's such a good question. It's funny, that's a lot of what I actually write about is write about why people change their minds. And I think this last point I was making about the court, I think I used to be much more of a judicial restraint person than I am today. And I think that's because a lot of the belief in judicial restraint rested on an assumption of democratic majoritarianism. The idea was that the court should not strike down where the people have made their will known. And I still think that's true when the government's doing something in which there's a pretty strong durable democratic will, the court should be pretty deferential. But I think over time, as I've seen what the actual world of policymaking looks like, and especially in housing, which is the thing I care a lot about, the more I've become more to the idea that at least in the abstract, the courts ought to play a little bit stronger role in overseeing regulatory agencies, at least to make sure that they're actually exercising a democratically legitimate purpose. And so that's one thing I think that I've certainly changed my mind a lot about.

Juliette Sellgren 


Once again, I'd like to thank my guest for their time and insight, and I'd like to thank you for listening to the Great Antidote podcast. The Great Antidote is sound engineered by Rich Goyette. If you have any questions, any guests or topic recommendations, please feel free to reach out to me at great antidote@libertyfund.org. Thank you.

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