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Bonus Quotation of the Day…

… is from pages 414-415 of my late Nobel-laureate colleague Jim Buchanan’s 1986 paper “Politics and Meddlesome Preferences,” as this paper is reprinted in James M. Buchanan, Politics as Public Choice (2000), which is volume 13 of the Collected Works of James M. Buchanan (footnote deleted):

There is no such rough matching of costs and benefits when the resolution of conflicts in social interdependence is approached through political mechanisms….

If I can resort to politics to impose my own preferences on the behavior of others, even if these preferences are not highly valued intrinsically, then it would seem that other persons, working in democratic process, can do the same to me. I may find that the political process is double-edged. If it can be used to my advantage in imposing my personal preferences over the behavior of other persons, it can be used to my disadvantage in imposing the preferences of others on my own behavior. I may gain a few pennies’ worth of utility by the regulation against leaf burning, but find that possessing a handgun in my house is politically prohibited. And it may happen that I very strongly value the liberty to possess a handgun. The political process, which is allegedly open equally to all citizens, is evenhanded here. It generates a few pennies’ worth of utility to me in restricting my neighbor’s leaf burning; it generates a few pennies’ worth of utility to my neighbor by outlawing the possession of handguns. But, in doing so, it imposes many dollars’ worth of loss on me through preventing my possession of a handgun and imposes many dollars’ worth of damage on my neighbor who highly values the liberty of burning his or her own autumn leaves.

DBx: Why is this indisputably correct point ignored by so very many people?

I understand why this point is ignored by politicians: The time span about which politicians care extends no further than the next election. I don’t, however, understand why this point, as explained here by Buchanan, is ignored by so very many people who are not running for political office. Why, for example, do non-office-holding advocates of “common good capitalism” not understand that even if the government today intervenes in ways to better serve the preferences of these advocates, the government is very likely tomorrow to intervene in ways that treat those preferences with contempt – to intervene in ways that promote the preferences of individuals whose understanding of “the common good” differs quite a lot from the understanding of advocates of “common good capitalism”?

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