Here’s a transcript from my entry into RMIT’s three minute thesis competition. I attempted to give the presentation off the top of my head – and managed to fumble my way through it reasonably well – but it makes for better reading in script form.
So here’s my thesis for the layperson, in roughly three minutes:
Politics can be difficult to predict at the best of times.
But let me start by asking you all to take out an imaginary crystal ball and think about the upcoming federal election.
How confident can you be that the bundle of policies that are implemented by the next government – whoever that may be – will match your own personal political preference ‘sweet spot’?
There are two reasons why the chance of this ever happening is probably pretty small.
The first has to do with government bundling.
Because we have to evaluate everything the government would do – all at once, and as a bundle – there are inherent trade-offs happening – you might like some policies, but not others.
And if this is the case your political preferences might not be very well satisfied.
Many people begrudge the way pay TV companies bundle their services – why don’t we have the same problem with government bundling?
The second reason has to do with tyranny of the majority and the ‘winner takes all’ effect.
There’s always the chance that the party with the policy bundle you prefer won’t win, and you’ll end up with a government that somebody else has chosen.
Again, your political preferences won’t be very well satisfied.
The traditional solution to these problems is to territorially decentralise.
This is the idea of federalism and ‘voting with your feet’: we divide the map into a number of states with different looking policy bundles, and let citizens sort themselves into the states that best match their political preferences.
But even this has its limitations – mostly to do with lack of mobility between states.
A range of other factors influence where we live – career, friends, family, social life.
We put up with government we don’t like in order to live near the people and places we do.
This is where my research kicks in.
If there are problems with bundled government and territorial federalism: then what about unbundled government and non-territorial federalism?
Unbundled government is where collective goods and services are provided separately by independent single-purpose governments.
Citizens would belong to a number of unbundled states at the same time: one each for education, health care, welfare, culture, and so on.
This is ‘government a la carte’: citizens will be able to personally curate their own political bundles based on their unique preferences.
Non-territorial federalism is where citizens have the ability to change political jurisdictions without having to change location.
Again, there would be many states within the same territorial location and people could choose to ‘migrate in place’ to the non-territorial states that best suit their preferences.
You and your next-door neighbour might be citizens of quite different governments!
We don’t really know how either of these systems would work – as you might imagine, there aren’t too many real world examples to draw on.
For this reason my research is mostly theoretical and looking at using agent-based modelling to simulate unbundled and non-territorial governments.
The hope is that by exploring their advantages – and their limitations – we might improve political choice for the future.