Mike Munger presents an interesting thesis in “Unicorn Governance”.
… Unicorns are … key to improving human society and sharing prosperity.
Now, you want to object that there is a flaw in the above argument, because unicorns do not actually exist. This would clearly be a fatal flaw for the claim that unicorns are useful, if it were true. Is it?
Now here’s the million dollar insight:
The existence of unicorns is easily proven. Close your eyes. Now envision a unicorn. … Your vision may look slightly different, but there is no question that when I say "unicorn," the picture in your mind corresponds fairly closely to the picture in my mind. So, unicorns do exist and we have a shared conception of what they are.
There you go: unicorns are virtual … hypothetical … imaginary … but they absolutely exist, just not in our practical humdrum lives.
And now an analogy about how many people think about policies they desire:
… They want a kind of unicorn, a State that has the properties, motivations, knowledge, and abilities that they can imagine for it. … People who favor expansion of government imagine a State different from the one possible in the physical world.
The problem is that the virtual … hypothetical … imaginary policy exists already.
The issue, then, may not be the policy they imagine (and favor):
In my experience, we spend too much time fighting with our opponents about their unicorns. [emphasis added]
… To tell them that their imaginations are wrong is useless. So long as we insist that our opponents are mistaken about the properties of "the State"—which doesn't exist in the first place, at least not in the way that statists imagine—then we will lose the attention of many sympathetic people who are primarily interested in consequences. [emphasis original]
Now, I’m unconvinced by Munger’s conclusion: that we need to convince the audience that those in favor of policy solutions are the idealists. To me, that smacks of the chip-on-the-shoulderness of so many Libertarians.
Digression: I don’t have a ready alternative for Munger’s suggestion. I posed a version of the same question I still have at a Stata/Liberty conference last spring: how do I get someone who focuses on motivations to pay attention to consequences? Alternatively, how do I convince someone who holds what Sowell called the unconstrained vision, that my constrained vision is worth listening to? I think Munger’s given me a new way to think towards a solution to this question, but not a solution in and of itself.
Hat tip to Cold Spring Shops, which brought this piece to my attention before I found it on my own.