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Quotation of the Day…

… is from page 68 of my late Nobel laureate colleague Jim Buchanan’s Spring 1995 Journal of Federalism article, “Federalism as an Ideal Political Order and an Objective for Constitutional Reform,” as this article is reprinted in James M. Buchanan, Federalism, Liberty, and Law (2001), which is volume 18 of the Collected Works of James M. Buchanan (footnote deleted; link added):

But why should the politicization of choices be of normative concern?  Under the standard assumptions that dominated analysis before the public choice revolution, politics is modeled as the activity of a benevolently despotic and monolithic authority that seeks always and everywhere to promote “the public interest,” which is presumed to exist independent of revealed evaluations and which is amenable to discovery or revelation.  If this romantic image of politics is discarded and replaced by the empirical reality of politics, any increase in the relative size of the politicized sector of an economy must carry with it an increase in the potential for exploitation.  The well-being of citizens becomes vulnerable to the activities of politics, as described by the behavior of other citizens as members of majoritarian coalitions, as elected politicians, and as appointed bureaucrats.

DBx: The dominant and seemingly intensifying view among today’s pundits, professors, preachers, politicians, and policy wonks is that market activity, at best, is zero-sum and very often negative sum, while democratic political activity offers the only hope for protecting the poor(er) and the powerless from the predations of the rich(er) and more powerful.  This understanding of economics and of politics is both antediluvian and simplistic in the extreme, but it is nevertheless one that is held by many “Progressives” – and it appears to me to be gaining ground.  The understanding is akin to the understanding that drives one to be thrilled by a superhero movie: unambiguous bad guys are propelled by the most grotesque of greedy motivations to kill, maim, and dispossess innocent people.  Enter unambiguous good guy or gal who, blessed with superhuman powers and an almost god-like love of the masses, swoops in to protect the masses from the bad-guys’ predations.  All good people live happily ever after under the watchful eye and super powers of the superhero.  The End.

In fact, of course, a government invested with the authority to act as if it is such a superhero possesses neither the imagined powers of the cartoon superhero nor that superhero’s imagined love of humanity.  And so to invest government with power to do good is – as has often been said – to invest it with the power to do bad.  Wishing or hoping that government will never or only seldom use its power to do bad is foolish.  Only suckers are willing to bestow such power on the government.

(In the above photo are Jim Buchanan and Gordon Tullock.  I believe the photo dates back to the mid-1960s and was probably taken in or near Charlottesville.)


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