Charter Cities and Genetic Algorithms

My dear friend Mark Lutter has had me all riled up about charter cities for a few years now. I link to a new podcast from USFQ’s Aula Magna magazine on the subject that gives a very short introduction to the topic. After recording the podcast I returned to preping a class on genetic algorithms and got all riled up because I saw a connection between the two I hadn’t seen (clearly) before. Charter cities can be real life genetic algorithms for institutional innnovation.

Genetic algorithms are a form of machine learning that searches for solutions to problems by trying out a variety of solutions. As the name implies they are based on the evolutionary algorithm of diversity-selection-amplification to adapt solutions. In a genetic algorithm a population of of possible solutions to an optimization problem is instantiated and solutions with high fitness and reproduce (using cross over, mutation, and other genetic operators) to create new populations of solutions. over enough iterations genetic algorithms are goods ways to search for solutions whe the solution space is complex and poorly defined, which is probably what institutional space looks like.

Now imagine a country that is designed as a genetic algorithm and charter cities within the country as posible institutional solutions. The constitution of the central government is the overall framework of the genetic algorithm and the diversity of institutional arrangments at local government levels (i.e. different charters) are posible solutions.

Viewing charter cities in this light, the interesting question now turns to the rules of the central government and not necesarily to the rules implemented by the charters themselves.

A few of the questions that have begun to bother me follow. What country level rules lead to convergence, or at least continual adaptation to better institutional arrangments at the local level? What should the constriants be imposed on the charters for better, faster convergence and learning? Zoning and housing restrictions would be a clear impediment to convergence as they limit foot voting. If we view charter cities (and fiscal federalism) as an experiment to search for solutions to institutional arrangements for governance, can we use the criteria used by IRB boards as the minimum set of requirements that informa the central government constitution/framework where this experiment takes place?

Proxy Culture Wars 1

When contentious cultural and political issue arise in the USA, foreign intellectual elites invariably align themselves along partisan lines that try to mimick those of the cultural center of the world, the USA. The incomplete, and often contradictory overlap between foreign social reality, and that of the USA never fails to offer interesting paradoxes.

The intelectual battles, fought on foreign intellectual soil, are part of what I will call the proxy culture wars. The resulting paradoxes tend to stiffle local debate on local issues (I will use local as in local to a foreigner, i.e. not in the USA) by locking the participants into paradoxical positions. While the situation is amusing it causes real problems when trying to reach consensus on local solutions to local problems, communicating across the local partisan divide, or even thinking clearly about local issues.

For example, with the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court of the USA, legal twitter in Latin America has exploded in support or condemnation of her nomination. Those on the local/foreign right express their admiration for originalist interpretations, while those on the left local/foreign begin reciting Dworkin and praise interpretations of a living constitution. The ensuing battle would be relatively harmless if commentary on the goings-on in the USA was all that was at stake. But this is seldom the case as the parties bring out full battle regalia and engage in terms of the underlying merits of these positions as if they were general positions, applicable to local reality. In the fog of war, the local conditions and the contentious issues in the USA get mixed together.

The paradox arises when the debate turns local. For example consider Ecuador, where the constitution adopted in 2008 largely reflected the policy preferences of the self described twenty first century socialist president Rafael Correa (local left, now conviceted for corruption to 8 years of prison). Do those on the local right really admire originalism as a judicial doctrine? Do those on the Ecuadorean right really wish local judges would faithfully apply our constitution with its 99 constitutionally protected rights? Mind you, these rights include a right to universal access to information and communication technologies (Art. 16), recreation, the practice of sports and free time (Art. 24), and permanent and secure access to heathy and nutricious food, preferibly produced locally and in correspondence to the diverse identities and cultural traditions (Art. 13). Interesting side note: as documented by the Comptarative Constitutions Project, Ecuador ranks #1 in number of codified constitutional rights. But the nature of these rights and the problems they bring about are topics for future posts.

Are those on the Ecuadorean left, oponents of originalism and supporters of a living constitution really arguing for a more expansive interpretations of these rights? For example when the fiscal reality of the Ecuadorean government makes it impossible for the government to guarantee one of the 99 rights codified in the constitution, do those on the left argue for an expansive interpretation? Do they really want an expansive interpretation so that the government is let off the hook when it fails to provide access to smart phone technology for all Ecuadoreans, because of unsustainable fiscal position?

Of course what is really going on is a great example of motivated reasoning. Conclusions are arrived at, and arguments follow to support those conclusions. The paradox arises as the arguments that support “things I would like in the USA” do not necesarily map well to “things I would like at home”. The lack of coherence between local reality and comentary on the affairs of the USA leads to paradoxical positions that muddy local debate, and lead to incoherence and sloppy thinking.