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Quotation of the Day…

… is from page 260 of the 2016 second edition of Thomas Sowell’s important volume Wealth, Poverty and Politics:

In short, when a governmental institution is given a categorical mandate – whether to deal with pollutants, discrimination, crime, homelessness or other problems – the incentives are not the same as when private individuals or private organizations face an incremental problem requiring an expenditure of their own money, as distinguished from spending taxpayers’s money. Private individuals and organizations have financial incentives to act incrementally, pursuing a given activity so long as the incremental benefits exceed the incremental costs – but not beyond that point. A government agency, however, has incentives to pursue activities so long as those activities produce any benefit, or even the appearance of a benefit, since appearances matter in politics. The fact that government is essentially a categorical institution, and political issues tend to be discussed in categorical terms, facilitates such mismatches of incremental benefits and incremental costs.

DBx: It’s never been difficult to point to evidence of the sad truth of Tom Sowell’s description of the logic of government activity. But in the past two years, such evidence has been overwhelming. Avoiding Covid was largely treated as a categorical good, one that is not to be traded off against any other good.

Humanity will pay a heavy price for this folly for years, likely decades.