Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on November 17, 2017

in Other People's Money, Seen and Unseen, Virginia Political Economy

… is from page 99 of my late Nobel-laureate colleague James Buchanan’s Fall 1975 Reason Papers article, “Boundaries on Social Contract,” as this article is reprinted in Choice, Contract, and Constitutions (2001), which is volume 16 of The Collected Works of James M. Buchanan (original emphasis):

[T]o the extent that existing rights are held to be subject to continuous redefinition by the State, no one has an incentive to organize and to initiate trades or agreements.  This amounts to saying that once the body politic begins to get overly concerned about the distribution of the pie under existing property-rights arrangements and legal rules … we are necessarily precluding and forestalling the achievement of potential structural changes that might increase the size of the pie for all.  Too much concern for “justice” acts to ensure that “growth” will not take place, and for reasons much more basic than the familiar economic incentives argument.

DBx: It’s a point that should be obvious, but given all too much economic-policy discussion today, it obviously isn’t.  The state is nearly always regarded by “Progressives” (and often so also by conservatives) as a giant device that determines how an assumed-to-exist economic pie is sliced.  Too little attention is paid to how rules might be altered in ways that enable everyone to have a good prospect of getting a larger slice (of what would then be necessarily) an expanding pie.  Too much attention is paid to devising, justifying, and engaging in efforts by each of us to use the state to seize stuff from others of us.

And among the most dangerous myths is the widespread belief that as long as state officials are chosen democratically, a seizing of other people’s stuff that would be universally regarded as an atrocious injustice if done privately becomes ethically justified – or even “enlightened” – if done by the state.

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