Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on May 17, 2014

in Inequality, Politics, Reality Is Not Optional, Seen and Unseen

… is from page 290 of Moral Science and Moral Order, which is Vol. 17 of The Collected Works of James M. Buchanan; specifically, it’s from Jim’s April 1971 Ethics article, “Equality as Fact and Norm”:

If differences among persons in capacities to produce economic values are accompanied by differences in capacities to produce values through the political process, the market and the collective-decision structure would tend to generate roughly the same results in all cases.

Enthusiasts for enlarging the power and scope of government so that it can better pursue income or wealth “redistribution” and other popular notions of “social justice” too seldom recognize that financial assets are not the only currency worth having: power over others is very valuable to those who possess it.  (Such power is valuable to power-possessors both because it can be used to get others to do the power-possessors’ bidding directly and because it can be used by power-possessors to accumulate undeserved amounts of financial assets.)

It’s naive to imagine the following: that many intelligent and ambitious people who successfully use their intelligence to get rich when market institutions predominate will not successfully use their intelligence to get rich and powerful when political institutions predominate.  Yet even if the talents most conducive to success in the market do not at all overlap with the talents conducive to success in politics, it nevertheless will be true that some people will be much better at politics than other people.  There is a “one-percent” of political elites. Why so few complaints by “Progressives” about this unequal distribution of power?  Why so little recognition by “Progressives” of the dangers of centralized, sovereign power?  (The answer to this last question, I think, is that “Progressives” believe that regular democratic elections keep power in check – a belief that reveals only how utterly naive “Progressives” are about public choice and the reality of politics.)

Why do “Progressives” get angry and agitated when they encounter someone who made a monetary fortune by selling the likes of Beanie Babies, beer, or IT services only to consumers who voluntarily purchase these things, yet get worshipful and teary-eyed when they encounter someone (such as FDR or LBJ) who made a political fortune by forcing millions of people into social-engineering schemes?

UPDATE: The best answer to the above questions is perhaps supplied by my colleague Dan Klein’s comment on this recent EconLog post by David Henderson:

Cops etc. are, the mythology goes, collectively appointed and rewarded by us to serve us. Us taking care of us. The people’s romance. Not so with farmers, fishermen, and so on.

Dan’s “etc.” of course includes politicians.

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments

comments

Add a Comment    Share Share    Print    Email

Previous post:

Next post: