Ideas Untrapped
Ideas Untrapped
Meta-Institution from the Bottom Up

Meta-Institution from the Bottom Up

I had a very interesting conversation Shelby Grossman - political scientist at Stanford University. We talked about her research on informal trade in Lagos, and what we can learn generally about how institutions form from her findings. You can read this essay for a general background and explanation on what Shelby and I discussed on this episode.

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TL: Today, I am on with Shelby Grossman. Shelby is a research scholar at Stanford Internet Observatory and she is a political scientist. Welcome, Shelby.

SG: Thanks so much, Tobi, for having me.

TL: One question I would like to start with is that institutions that promote prosperity and positive economic activities like trade, like property rights, how do they develop in countries that do not yet have them?

SG: Yeah, that's a great question and a lot of political scientists try to figure this out and you know, no one knows for sure. So there are many political scientists who think that there is a correlation between democracy and rule of law and contract enforcement. But I think what is interesting to me is how even within the same country, in different places, you can have different levels of rule of law and different types of property, of contract enforcement.

TL: What are the patterns and the correlations that you noticed that really stand out from your research over the years?

SG: In terms of property rights protection?

TL: Yes.

And so what I've observed, I think the main pattern is that good private governance, good private contract enforcement, is more likely when the state is actually threatening the group - SG

SG: I think the thing that I have observed is, you know, a lot of people tend to think that when the state does not provide property rights protection, that private groups will emerge to provide this service. So private groups will emerge to provide impartial contract enforcements and those types of services. And the pattern that I've observed is that that doesn't always happen. So sometimes you have private groups that emerge that actually extort from their own group members. And so what I've observed, I think the main pattern is that good private governance, good private contract enforcement, is more likely when the state is actually threatening the group. So when the state threatens to intervene in a private group, that's when the group organises to provide these services. And in the absence of threats from the government, private group leaders actually extort from their own members.

TL: I think that's one bit I found most fascinating from your field study in Lagos. I mean, usually, the intuition is that without government intervention, people would handle their business, enforce property rights within their groups. But, which I found counter-intuitive in a way, you're saying that the threat of government intervention actually promotes institutions that protect the interest of group members. What are the channels for such emergence?

SG: So there are a couple of channels. To make it more concrete, my research focuses on markets associations in Lagos, so these are like when traders organise themselves or when traders are all in like a certain area and then they elect one of their own traders to be the head of the Market Association. And so to make this really concrete, there is one Market Association that I find super fascinating. It's called Oke-Arin in Lagos Island, it's predominantly a wine market. And this is a Market Association that, at least, at the time that I was studying them, they were kind of a paragon of good governance. So the market leader did all sorts of things to promote trade in the market. If a supplier sold one of his traders bad wine, like substandard wine or falsely labelled wine, he would organise a market-wide boycott of the supplier. And by doing things like that you just make it less likely that suppliers are going to cheat anyone in the market because they're afraid that they too will be boycotted. So what explains this? What is the reason for why this market is so well-governed and what I found from talking to the market leader and lots of traders is that this market is really threatened by NAFDAC, the National Food and Drug Administration, is that right?

TL: Yes.

SG: So NAFDAC has lots of authority to intervene in Oke-Arin and if they catch a trader selling falsely branded wine or substandard wine, they can arrest the trader. And so it's in the face of that state threat that the market leader does super aggressive policing of his own traders. So if he catches a trader selling falsely branded wine, he will lock up the shop, he will confiscate the goods. And he told me, literally...he said that 'the reason I do this is because I want to keep NAFDAC out of my market.' And you know when NAFDAC comes, it's not just NAFDAC. They come with the mobile police who are, kind of, a frightening sight sometimes, I'm sure you've seen them, they have those like big guns and the trucks and they scare away customers and so the market leader thinks it's in the best interest of the market to try to keep these people out of his market. And he does this by really regulating the quality of the goods that the traders are selling.

So to step back and abstract from that, I think one channel is that when you face threats from the state, you want to keep them out of your business and so the way to do that is to not give them any excuse to intervene. And to not give them an excuse to intervene, you need to be kind of keeping your house in order, essentially.

TL: Yeah. And maybe I'm trying to project too much into this one study. I'm just wondering, the findings...does it scale into other areas of the society? Like the relationship between citizens and police?

SG: Interesting, tell me more about what you're thinking there?

TL: Oh yeah, so what I'm thinking is, for example, there's been a movement, largely on Twitter, about the anti-robbery squad in the police called SARS. They're abusive, Amnesty just did a report recently about police brutality, which is pretty damning. They're abusive. There is no rule of law. Citizens basically have no rights when it comes to their relationship with the police. So I'm looking at this study as... if you have citizens' groups like the market associations, can they extract compromises that further entrenches the rule of law and the value for obeying the law and respecting rights in that arrangement the way we do with market associations?

SG: Yeah, that's really fascinating. I think you definitely do see market associations negotiating with [the] police, negotiating with government officials. So the main way you see this...and let me know if this is not answering your question... the main way you see this is with the local government. So local government fees are set at the market level. So you can have two trade us in the same local government, but they will pay different fees depending on what market they’re at. And typically what happens is the market association negotiates with the local governments over fee collection and you can argue that this is kind of a way of encouraging rule of law, at least for, like, the well run market associations. Because sometimes market associations negotiate with the local government in a way that only benefits the market leader; essentially, the market leader and the local government are like colluding against the traders. But when it works well, what's happening is the market association is making local government taxation more predictable for the traders, more fair and I think that in itself is a form of strengthening the rule of law, because traders don't want to have unpredictable visits from my the local government where each time they come, a new fee is charged because that really makes it hard for traders to make plans for their business when they don't know what their level of taxation will be.

So I think in that way - and many other scholars of argued this as well, I'm not the first person to say this - by having organised societal groups negotiate with different government entities, it can be a way of creating rule of law. The downside is that they're only creating these agreements for themselves, so it's not clear it's going to affect anyone other than the market association that's doing the negotiation. But I would argue that that's better than nothing and that is maybe the first step to a more like generalised rule of law.

TL: I think you just went where I was going with that question that how does what is generally viewed as the ideal institutional form, how does it emerge from such group arrangements? And what I mean is constitutional individualism. That is, you, as a citizen, have a rights and your rights are protected and secured under the law?

SG: Yeah, so there are different theories, one big theory is that war can actually make this more likely. For example, in Europe when, you know, various territories were about to be invaded, the way that they were able to defend themselves was by taxing people. Because taxes would help them pay for people who could fight off these attackers. But people aren't just going to agree to be taxed just, like, easily. They're going to want to hold onto their own money, and so the way that leaders were able to get people to pay taxes was by offering them various rights. And this is, you know, one theory for the emergence of democratic forms of government and rule of law. So it's kind of counter-intuitive that interstate war can actually make the emergence of democracy more likely.

And so one of the things that's really interesting about Africa is since independence, there isn't really that much interstate conflict in Africa. Of course, there's a fair amount of intrastate, like civil war, but there isn't really that much interstate conflict. And some people argue that this has actually kind of stymied the emergence of [the] rule of law in some sense. Certainly, no one is advocating that there should be interstate war, but it's kind of a counter-intuitive silver lining of that kind of conflict.

TL: What role does government capability play in this? So thinking about NAFDAC from the example you talked about, NAFDAC had this era where they took the job of regulating and policing fake and substandard products seriously. So now, the leadership changes and so is zeal or the mission for that regulatory drive. So, if the incentive or the ability or the capability weakens for government or any particular institution, does it change the incentive for the market association?

SG: Yeah. Absolutely. I think, for example, I definitely don't want to say things are perfect in the US, things are not perfect in the US. We have many issues related to the rule of law, but in general in the US, you don't see like business associations operating at the same level as you do in Nigeria. And I think that's in part because rule of law is stronger in the US. And So what I mean by that is like when you can feel pretty comfortable relying on [the] courts to enforce contracts, you don't actually need these private associations to do that for you. And so what's interesting about dive of the Lagos markets is that many of the traders are themselves informal, by which I mean either that they are not registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission or some of their transactions are Informal. So some of their transactions are undocumented, and when that's the case you obviously can't rely on the courts for contract enforcement because nothing about the transaction was formal, and so that causes you to need these private associations. I think in general, as the rule of law increases, the role of the private associations decreases.

That being said, that's not always the case, so there are many types of products that are sold in the US for which people cannot rely on the courts for contract enforcement. So a famous example of this that Barak Richman has done a lot of really fascinating work on is the diamond trade. It's actually really hard for courts to enforce diamond contracts for many reasons, it's also just really easy to steal diamonds and get away with it because they're so tiny. And so as a result of this, there's actually a really big role for private associations in the diamond industry in the US. In the US it's predominantly Orthodox Jews who trade diamonds and have all this really fascinating associations that Richmond has written about. But to answer your question, I think, yes, in general as a rule of law increases, the role of these associations is less critical.

TL: I'm also wondering about the role of the civil society in all this. We can also view them as some form of association or groups who are trying to organize citizens like themselves and advocate for various rights or stop various form of abuses. Do they have the same incentive as traders who basically have a lot of skin in the game? They have a lot to lose if those institutions are actually predatory. Or are the incentives different?

SG: Yeah, so actually one of my colleagues Hakeem Bishi is starting to work on this by looking at residents associations like neighbourhood associations in Lagos and I'll be interested to see what he finds. But my hunch is that these traders actually aren't that unique, that I think this would apply to other types of civil society groups. So you can easily imagine a head of a residents' association being predatory and collecting funds that they say will be used for private security, but maybe underpaying the security guards or saying that they'll hire ten security guards when in fact they only hire five. So I think it's simple to imagine that there will be similar incentives for other types of associations, but of course, also, it could be different, so I'm excited to see what my colleague Hakeem figures out.

TL: Again, I see your study...and I'm sorry if I'm projecting too much onto this. Please stop me if you think I'm overreaching. So again, I'm just curious that in Africa we're not in the original state anymore, so, we just have intermediate states. We can't have wars anymore. A lot of the channels by which these institutions emerge are way, way into the past. And of course, globalization has allowed for all kinds of interventions. So how do you approach things like political reforms? Like you want to reform the judiciary, you want to reform the police, is it more effective with an approach like this bottom-up market association types or top-down? Which offers a country the most feasible path to credible political evolution?

SG: Yeah, I mean, this is a really tough question. Like, if people knew the answer to this, then it would be pretty easy to just, you know, have judicial reform everywhere in the world. And so I think no one really knows the answer to this question. I think there are some theories that elite competition can lead to some of these reforms. There are other theories that, as you mentioned, like grassroots movements are more effective? I definitely don't know the answer to this. I think my one opinion is that I don't think international aid is really the way to go. You know, I've just seen too many examples of international organizations coming in and, like, thinking that it's just an education problem that if only people knew that this policy is better for rule of law, then they would implement it. And thinking that if you just tell people to do that, it will happen. And of course, that's not the issue. There are so many reasons that things are the way they are. Various people benefit from [the] current structures of power. So yeah, I don't really know the answer.

So one other thing I would say is, I think there's really space for looking at subnational variation and I have a colleague Jonathan [...] who does this. Like Nigeria is such a cool country because it's a federal system and there's huge variation in rule of law at a state level. Jigawa, Kaduna, Lagos, of course, they have their problems but I think in general people think they're relatively well government compared to some of the other states when it comes to rule of law. And so trying to figure out what's going on there, what explains that variation and some people have theories and say, 'oh, it's just because Tinubu exists.' A very like individualist account, like Tinubu has a long time horizon and for various reasons, maybe like earlier...this is an argument made by D.N. Degremont, that... when the APC did not control the Federal Government, Tinubu aspired to control the Federal Government and thought that by improving some of these things in South-Western Nigeria, that that could increase the strength of the APC vis a vis the Federal Government.

So there are those types of theories as well, but I think there is a lot more room for people to do more research on this kind of subnational variation. But I'd be curious to know what your thoughts are on this question.

TL: Yeah, I think there is some... in my opinion, again, I should state that I don't have any clear evidence, but I think there's some credibility to that explanation. I mean, one area where Tinubu really did punch above his weight, so to speak, was in the area of revenue. When there was a power struggle between Lagos and the Federal Government over local government creation, and Obasanjo did not release federal allocation to Lagos, Tinubu did a lot of things and increased Lagos' revenue and the state was able to punch above its weight in public infrastructure projects and some of that legacy still abounds. Again, there are political benefits because he was also able to finance electoral competition for the party in federal controlled states, so I think that explanation has some merits, in my opinion.

SG: Yeah, and it'd be interesting to see if the explanation holds outside of Nigeria. So like if in other federal countries where you have a similar political dynamic where there is a politician who is not currently in the ruling party but aspires to be in as a long time horizon... I don't know maybe these conditions are pretty narrow, but it'll just be interesting to see if you'll see similar dynamics playing out when those conditions hold in other federal countries.

TL: What explanatory power would you grant to the so-called resource curse in all of this?

SG: Yeah, I mean, I think the resource curse is really compelling. But as you just noted, I think it holds a lot of explanatory power for why the Federal Government of Nigeria is the way it is, but at the same time, it's so fascinating that Lagos was getting these oil checks as well and still felt the need to increase its own tax base for some of the reasons you were just saying, like, Obasanjo not recognizing all the local governments and withholding funds for that reason. So, I think the oil curse is not deterministic, that even in a country that has a lot of oil revenue as a percent of total national revenue, there are still ways to overcome that which we see in Kaduna, in Lagos, in Jigawa.

TL: And I want to go back to elite competition, something you mentioned earlier. It's a bit of a chicken and egg problem, as some of my colleagues have put it. Some have argued that before we can have some of these reforms take hold in Nigeria, there has to be a new middle class that would emerge, with [a] new ethos that can drive the discourse and push back and ask pertinent questions of the government and maybe even run for office and change the system from [the] inside. But, the flip side is that without policies that promote growth, you cannot have the enrichment that allows for the emergence of a middle class. So how do I, for example, resolve that dilemma? You're the expert.

SG: Well, I don't know if I'm the expert on that question, but yeah, I think the thing that's really fascinating about West Africa, but this is probably true more generally, is how expensive it is to run for office. So one of my friends, Amanda Pingston, has done research on this in Benin Republic, and she shows that it's so expensive to run for local office, to be an MP in Benin. That basically because... you know, Benin is very different from Nigeria in that it doesn't have this big of a private sector economy, and so as a result, really the only people who can afford to mount this campaigns are people who already had positions in government because that's the way that you can make money in Benin.

And so as a result, the people who are running to be MPs are people who have already had positions in government, and it really prevents the emergence of a new ruling class of people who were shopkeepers and built up a little business. In Benin, the public sector employment is just such a high share of employment that that can't happen. So obviously, to some extent, that's different in Nigeria, but to some extent, it's not. So you can imagine that there are many states in Nigeria, maybe in the northwest, the northeast, where, really, the only people who could afford to run for office are people already connected to the government in one way or another. I think Lagos is a little different because there are so many other ways to make money beyond being connected to the government. So I think that's part of the problem, but it's all chicken or the egg, what has to happen first for the nature of the ruling class to change? But I definitely think money is a big part of it.

TL: One other thing I want to get your reaction to is corruption. We can agree that corruption is bad, especially in relation to [the] public treasury and its influence in robbing people of the provision of public goods, which is [the] government's job. But one thing I've encountered recently from political scientists, Ang Yuen Yuen (I hope I'm getting her name correctly), using China as an example, is that low corruption, especially at the local level, can actually be harnessed for positive institutional building and building the state. She gave examples of how Chinese officials will leverage personal relationships that we would standardly label as corrupt constitutionally to provide roads, build schools, build bridges, allocate land. What's your reaction to that view? Is there a positive niche for corruption?

SG: Yeah, so I have kind of complicated views about corruption and in general, I don't really use the word in my research just because I feel like people define corruption differently. So one of the things that I found so fascinating in talking to traders in Lagos is they don't mean the same thing I mean by corruption. So, for example, it is very common in Lagos for local government officials, when they collect fees from traders, to pocket some portion of them and then the other portion goes into the official local government bank account. So I would consider that corruption - that's the use of public funds for private gain. Traders, on the other hand, do not consider that corruption. What traders consider corruption is if all of the sudden the local government raises fees exorbitantly, or if the local government has been collecting 500, 500, 500 and then one time they say, ah, today, we are collecting 1500, that's what traders consider corruption. And traders don't necessarily care about what proportion of their fees are just going straight to the chairman versus into the official bank account.

So, most people would say 'oh, that's bad,' that these local government chairmen and the lower level bureaucrats are pocketing these funds. On the other hand, they're probably on underpaid. So maybe this is a way of topping up their salary, not in a way that's going to let them buy a Mercedes, but just in a way that's going to give them a decent salary. So I don't really feel like it's my place to say this is bad corruption versus this is good corruption. But I think there are a lot of political scientists who actually think that focusing on corruption as a way to get to better rule of law is kind of misguided, and that actually you want to align incentive between politicians and advocates for the rule of law and maybe by getting angry about the 20 percent of the contracts they took as kickbacks is not really the most productive way to go.

TL: The control of violence, how important is it in the emergence of institutions? I know Douglas North, Patrick Wallace and co. have done some work in this area but what are your views?

SG: Yeah, so I don't have any great thoughts on this because I've never really studied violent areas. I guess Lagos used to be more violent than it is today, but, yeah, I think it's complicated. I'm really only familiar with these big picture arguments about the history of Europe and wars and state-making. But I think in general, violence is certainly bad for trade, in the short term at least, it just makes the lives of traders unpredictable and you really want predictability when you're a trader because it allows you to plan and make long term decisions.

TL: So I have a bit of pet theory and I want you to tell me where I'm wrong. Now, the way I think about this... it's not mutually exclusive, but I see some form of tension, especially in a country like Nigeria, between rights and social order. And I think that sometimes our push for rights, especially with institutions that do not have the capacity to establish or govern that order may be a bit asking too much. So in a way, I think that for institutions to emerge and develop and mature, the state has to establish its monopoly of violence, so to speak. And in that process, citizens may have to tolerate, of course, not to a great extent, but the question is where do you draw the line? So citizens may have to tolerate some form of abuse of their rights. What do you think of that?

SG: Can you tell me more specifically, like, what rights you're thinking of?

TL: Okay, let me give you an example. There's a common practice here which, again, some aid agencies and nongovernmental organizations have documented quite a lot, which is arrests and imprisonment of innocent people. There's this policing form where, to establish order in a particular neighbourhood, the police just go and do these raids. You know, there are no investigations, they just pack a lot of all these young men and lock them up. And in some cases, again, I should some cases, some of them are truly guilty, but in other cases, they pack a lot of innocent people and then lock them up. Sadly, some, for years.

But I've also kind of noticed that the problem with policing in relation to that problem is that the police, as an institution itself, does not have any capacity to actually investigate crime, so they just have this one-cap fits all approach. But as citizens, the way we demand for our rights to be respected is that, 'uh, well, no. There is no excuse for arresting the innocent, the police should be able to investigate the details and know who is guilty and who is not and what happened behind the scenes,' know, we have this list of demands. And sometimes I feel we are demanding something that our institutions cannot deliver at the moment.

SG: Yeah, that's really fascinating. I don't know. There might be something to that. At the same time, I would be a little afraid that when you arrest an innocent person and keep them in prison for several years you're going to be creating someone who when they're released is not going to be promoting societal order and is probably going to be really angry at the government and probably isn't going to be the most productive member of society after that. And also probably, you know, his entire extended family is just going to be really angry at the state as well. So I don't think that is super productive but at the same time, I hear what you're saying. Should we arrest no one because the police don't have the capacity to do true investigations? That doesn't seem like the right answer either.

So, yeah, I don't really know what's best with that. And probably there is some middle ground where, I don't know, maybe you could have like community groups that partner with the police? Obviously, this could be problematic in various ways but I think there are some models of community policing where the community maybe has better information on what actually went down than the police do. But I totally hear what you're describing and I think people will comment and are like (citizens who are like), 'you shouldn't arrest anyone if you don't have a capacity to perfectly investigate the case,' I think that seems misguided as well.

TL: Yeah. I agree with you. Tell us about what you're working on currently. I know you're working on disinformation, what threats does misinformation pose to developing countries like Nigeria?

SG: Yeah, so, I've recently shifted a bit to focus on disinformation campaigns and in particular foreign, online, disinformation campaigns. You know, for example, I helped to uncover at the end of last year a Russian disinformation campaign that was targeting a bunch of African countries, not Nigeria, but Libya, Madagascar, Mozambique, DRC. And what was really interesting about the campaign was this was a campaign that was linked to a Russian oligarch named Yevgeny Prigozhin, so this is the same guy who coordinated the social media information campaigns that targeted the US in 2016. And what's really interesting about these campaigns was that he'd created all these Facebook pages that were working to bolster the ruling party in these countries or other political actors that he supported. But he actually wasn't pushing fake news or misinformation, he was just posting like hyper-partisan contents. Contents that said things like: 'wouldn't this guy make a great president again? You should vote for him.' So that's not necessarily untrue. It's not even falsifiable, it's just like a sentiment. But this operation was trying to create the impression that there was a whole lot of grassroots support for these very individuals, and I think that's really dangerous especially given that so many people get their news and information from social media these days. If you think that there is so much grassroots support for someone, that can possibly change the way that you think about things.

So that's like some of what I'm doing, and then more recently I've started investigating belief in misinformation in Nigeria. So there have been a lot, a lot, a lot of untrue things about the coronavirus that has spread around the world. For example, there are conspiracy theories about the role of 5G, about Bill Gates trying to kill people, and so I've been looking into belief in those types of misinformation, which also can be dangerous. Because if you believe 5G causes coronavirus, then maybe you're not going to wash your hands because you don't believe that that's the way in which the disease spreads.

TL: And what responsibility do you think that the big Tech companies who owned some of the platforms where a lot of this disinformation campaigns happen, what responsibility do you think they should have in relation to this problem? I know there's a lot of accountability in the developed countries, but it's almost absent in public discuss over here.

SG: Yeah, I think the platforms should have primary responsibility in dealing with this stuff, in part because they have more information than you or I do. They have information like IP addresses, and so they are better placed to figure out that certain posts are not coming from within Nigeria, even though they are pretending to be coming from within Nigeria, and, you know, just give it their automated methods. I think they are in a better place to put warning labels on 5G misinformation, that type of thing. And I think to some extent they're actually doing a ton. I think they're increasingly taking content moderation seriously. They found much of the Russian network targeting Africa, so to some extent, they are actually doing quite a bit of investigation into disinformation campaigns targeting countries outside the US.

But at the same time, for sure, their work is US-centric and the policies that they have in place are not implemented equally across countries. I think that is problematic. And I think there should be pressure placed on the platforms to hire more people who can help them implement content moderation policies carefully across countries because it's really hard for an American to know what hate speech in Myanmar looks like. You really need someone who is from Myanmar to do that. I mean, the challenge then is that it's actually really hard to hire the right people to do this kind of content moderation work. This is a point that my boss has made a few times. If you want someone to do content moderation in Myanmar, first of all, Facebook often doesn't want to hire people who are in Myanmar. For safety reasons, they want the content moderators to be outside of the country. But then you have to find someone who's not based in Myanmar and who is kind of impartial. So not connected to the ruling party or anything like that, and that can be really tricky. I think they can be doing better but there also are real hurdles to defining the scope of some of these policies across different cultures.

TL: Tell me how does a country like the US find itself in, if we were to believe the media... in a place where there's been some form of institutional decline? There are different investigations about presidential abuse of power or corruption, and even the government's response to the coronavirus. You're a political scientist, so tell me, how does a hyper-developed country like the US find itself in such a position?

SG: Yeah, so it's a tough question. I think you know the big picture of what happened is we elected a populist president and populist presidents globally are generally not good for democracy. So Trump is in my mind not that exceptional. He, in many ways, acts similarly to people like Chavez and populists elsewhere. And I think there are a number of ways in which populists can lead to democratic decline. Trump is always bashing the mainstream media and that's a common, common, common strategy of populists. And when you reduce trust in mainstream media, then the only person you trust is the president and so Trump can say anything he wants and people will believe him because there're not going to believe what the New York Times or the Washington Post or the Wall Street Journal says. So I think that's part of what explains the situation that we're in right now is that a huge portion of society just doesn't believe mainstream media anymore, and so they're willing to go along with or not try to counter various actions that Trump takes. I do think a lot of people who voted for Trump, they're not dumb. I think they do often see what he's doing and they're angry about it. But I think in general like that's what's going on. We elected a populist and he is acting in the same way that populists always do and more times than not, having a populist leads to democratic erosion. My hope is that America is strong enough to surmount this. Many other countries that have had populist presidents have been a kind of weaker democracies, like they haven't been democracies for that long and I think the fact that America has been a democracy for so long means that maybe trump won't do a ton of permanent damage, but I think it's hard to say.

TL: I hope it gets sorted out as well.

SG: Thanks.

TL: I'm going to ask you one last question which is a bit of a tradition for the show and our listeners. What's the one big idea you're most excited about right now and that you would like to see spread everywhere?

SG: I think I'm going to do two big ideas.

TL: Sure

SG: Related to my two, kind of, fields of research. So I think in terms of the disinformation stuff, the big idea is that most disinformation is no longer untrue. So most disinformation is people spreading hyper-partisan content, but trying to deceive people about their identity. So I think so often when people think about disinformation they think about fake news, but increasingly the sophisticated actors are not pushing fake news, they're pushing unfalsifiable hyper-partisan content, and I think people need to be more aware of that. I think the second big idea that I want people to think about more is that, as I mentioned before, not all private governance is good. That often times when the rule of law is weak and private groups emerge, the leaders of those groups are predatory and extort from their own group members. And I think a lot of times when people think about private associations and civil society, they're just thinking about the upside but oftentimes civil society groups can be predatory. So I think that will be the second big idea.

TL: Thank you very much, Shelby. Shelby Grossman it's been wonderful talking to you.

SG: This is fantastic, so fascinating. Thanks so much, Tobi.

Ideas Untrapped
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