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Quotation of the Day…

… is from page 50 of my colleague Richard E. Wagner’s 1988 essay “Public Choice and Constitutional Order,” co-authored with James D. Gwartney; this essay is chapter 2 in Gwartney & Wagner, eds., Public Choice and Constitutional Economics (original emphasis):

Politicians will find redistribution from widely dispersed disorganized groups (e.g. taxpayers and consumers) to easily-identifiable, concentrated interests (e.g. labor, business, farmers and the elderly) far more attractive than egalitarian transfers.  Similarly, the shortsightedness effect indicates that transfers which provide easily identifiable current benefits while imposing future costs (e.g. slower economic growth) that are difficult to identify will be attractive to political entrepreneurs.  These are the types of reshuffles one can expect from the political process.  There is little reason to believe that they will be egalitarian.

Just so.  And yet many people who worry about income and wealth differences – including many economists – continue to look to the political process to engineer their hopes and dreams.

Remaining ignorant of the workings of the economy is bad enough (contrary to often-heard claims, income and wealth differences in market economies aren’t signs of any malfunction or of doom on the horizon); remaining ignorant of the basic logic of political decision-making, as too many economists shockingly are, is inexcusable.  Such ignorance elevates faith in romantic hopes and slogans over a scientific understanding of reality.  Yet the number of scholars who simultaneously are active in summoning the political process to do this, that, and the other thing, but who also proudly proclaim their innocence of public-choice economics is huge.

It’s as if large numbers of people believe – they just believe – that good health is promoted by wrestling with lions and, therefore, refuse to listen to those scholars who, specializing in the actual study of lion behavior, warn that wrestling with lions is fatal rather than productive.