Monday, October 27, 2003

Government without the Romance

Chicago Economist (and Nobel prize winner, natch) James Buchanan has this rather excellent post on public choice theory. At its heart, public choice assumes that government workers put themselves, their family, and their friends before other people (as do all decent human beings) and see what the consequences are for public administration.

I did not know the historic context around public choice theory or Ken Arrow's (Chicago econ, Nobel prize too) work demonstrating how elections results are artifacts of the voting regimen, so it was interesting to learn that this work came about against a backdrop of socialism. It was also interesting to note that Buchanan settled on a constitution to protect democratic systems from majority tyrannies -- formalizing what James Madison & Co had figured out several years earlier.
A somewhat loose way of putting this is to say that in a constitutional democracy, persons owe loyalty to the constitution rather than to the government. I have long argued that on precisely this point, American public attitudes are quite different from those in Europe.
I'm not sure what to make of this, given that the US produced the West Wing while England opted for Yes, Minister.

It's also worth reading this nice piece by Arnold Kling, on how ideological bias creates closed systems that lose, in the long run, to open systems. I know in this internet era open is all the rage, but it's also worth remembering that if you find yourself someplace where everyone agrees with you, you are someplace very weird.

Oh yeah, and while I'm pointing out good things by Arnold to read, check out this nice piece on why FCC Chairman Michael Powell is the most misunderstood man in government. In that article, Arnold also mentions David Isenberg (who often strikes me as foolish, but make up your own mind) and the deeply unimpressive Stiglitz (Nobel prize, econ, not Chicago) who I heard speak about 6 months ago. Stiglitz is speaking in Boston tomorrow, I won't be there.


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