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Quotation of the Day…

… is from page 426 of Joel Mokyr’s superb 2009 volume, The Enlightened Economy: An Economic History of Britain 1700-1850:

The fact of the matter, then, is that rent-seeking in all its manifestations had become socially and politically unacceptable in early nineteenth century Britain.  There is no good explanation for this decline except to attribute it to the impact of Enlightenment thought, filtering through many layers and channels to the minds and members of the British political elites in both parties.  The relative payoff of activities that involved redistribution had declined steeply, as the result of a radical change in the ideological mood of the nation.

Perhaps it’s odd that an adherent of public-choice analysis, such as myself, finds much merit in this observation from Mokyr.  But I have become thoroughly convinced that – while ideas of course are incapable of transforming humans into super-humans and, thus, always work for the better when human actions are constrained by appropriate institutions – ideas do indeed matter greatly.  (Ideas channel actions and form constraints – for both good and bad.  Plopping on to society X a set of formal institutions that work very well in society Y will almost never work in society X.  Such a plopping will likely only worsen matters in society X, even if those from society Y who do the plopping-of-institutions on society X feel mighty good about themselves and their ‘success’ at forcibly imposing Y’s institutions on the people of X.)


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