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Count on It: Power Will Be Abused

Posted By Don Boudreaux On May 28, 2013 @ 8:39 am In Current Affairs,Politics,Reality Is Not Optional,Taxes | Comments Disabled

In my most-recent column in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review [1] I discuss the current IRS scandal.  Here’s a slice:

The fundamental question raised by the IRS scandal isn’t whether Obama ordered, or even knew of, the apparent misuse of the taxing power to punish political opponents. Rather, the fundamental question asks about the wisdom of creating in the first place government agencies that can so easily abuse their power in order to play political favorites.

In the private sector, we rely upon two core features of markets to protect against such abuse. First, each person is free not to patronize firms that fail to deliver sufficient value. Second, firms prosper only by — and only so long as they continue — competing successfully for consumers’ dollars. But because government agencies are funded with taxes — and because those agencies face no competition — greater reliance than is necessary in the private sector must be put on the integrity, altruism and diligence of elected officials to oversee government agencies in ways that ensure that those agencies don’t abuse their awesome powers.

When, as appears to be the case here, government officials turn out to be mere humans at monitoring the vast legions of government workers under their charge, it is indeed appropriate to blame and to criticize those officials. It is appropriate to blame and to criticize them not for their being human but, instead, for their promising the impossible — namely, for their promising to exercise the superhuman abilities that alone can ensure that government agencies behave with at least as much efficiency and integrity as the great majority of private firms routinely display.

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[1] In my most-recent column in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: http://triblive.com/opinion/featuredcommentary/4057955-74/government-agencies-firms#axzz2UOmnm6Hw

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