… is from page 79 of my former professor Randy Holcombe’s 2018 book, Political Capitalism: How Economic and Political Power is Made and Maintained:
In the abstract, people can hope that the government always acts in the public interest, but even casual observation indicates that the elite who make public policy do so with their own interests in mind. Externalities exist when the activities of some impose costs on third parties. Because government can force some to bear the costs of policies that benefit others, government policies create externalities. Those who design policies can benefit by producing policies that impose costs on others.
DBx: Indisputably true. So why are people who endorse the likes of tariffs and industrial policy blind to this reality? Such people – represented by Bernie Sanders on the left and by Oren Cass on the right – see problems where none exist, and then propose to fix these problems that are imaginary with policies that create problems that are real.
It’s more than mildly mysterious that so many pundits and politicians make themselves frantic by conjuring up imaginary problems that allegedly arise from people voluntarily spending their own money, and then, in response to this fear, calm themselves by blithely assuming that the ‘solution’ to such imaginary problems lies in giving to government officials the power to spend other-people’s money as well as to coerce other people.
Such pundits and politicians apparently believe that a sufficient condition for ensuring that coercion will produce lovely outcomes is the ability of such pundits and politicians personally to imagine that coercion might work in this happy manner, and then to describe these lovely outcomes using words. How unreflective and very self-centered.