I recently watched a video of Mark Pennington discussing "robust political economy" and thought it was very good. Arnold Kling is promoting it as well, which inspires me to share it here. The robustness of political economy that Pennington discusses is robustness to human error, frailty, ignorance, etc.
I highly recommend the talk, but I also want to highlight something that bothers me about it. This is essentially an argument for a constitutionally limited republic, and it also makes a good case for a constitutionally limited federal republic, in particular. Pennington goes a little off the reservation in acting as if he has produced a case for libertarianism, however, as if libertarianism and constitutionally limited federal republicanism are coterminous.
You see this with public choice theory a lot as well, where the economics and political science gets mixed in with a particular ideological prerogative. I think that's unfortunate. This is great political theory all around. In fact, he's highlighting exactly why I support a constitutionally limited government as well as why I make a big deal on here about federalism, and Pennington highlights these classic elements of liberal political economy by drawing attention to perhaps their most important feature: their robustness. I think Pennington pushes away people who agree with him on robust political economy but not on the libertarianism, and I think libertarians who listen to this risk thinking this elaboration of good political theory is somehow a justification of libertarianism.
I would also caution listeners to take what he says about "market failure" arguments with a grain of salt. He makes good points about robust political economy but I think he presents a somewhat distorted picture of market failure to facilitate a juxtaposition he wants to make (a juxtaposition which I think is entirely unnecessary and comes across as forced).
UPDATE: Arnold Kling highlights this conclusion which I endorse: "Societies benefit from continual experimentation. Since no one knows enough to design a perfect system, more experimentation is better.". Again, I'd highlight here the important difference between classical liberal robust political economy and modern libertarianism. One of the primary reasons for my unease at libertarianism is the threat that it poses to continual social experimentation. "There are a couple things we could try" is not a phrase you'll hear a libertarian say very often.
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