Monday, February 02, 2009

Daschle--it's Simply Shocking, you think?

Tibor R. Machan

Only those with a completely blind faith in governments would be shocked at the revelations that former Senate leader Tom Daschle, as well as some other nominees of President (change Washington) Obama, cannot manage to remain lawful even as they present themselves as public servants par excellence. These are only one whose dubious conduct has been exposed. There are hundreds and hundreds who manage to do their indiscretions under cover of public service.

Why is anyone shocked? Over twenty years ago Professor Jim Buchanan received the Noble Prize in economic science for the work he and his friend Gordon Tullock did in the sub-discipline of public choice theory. The gist of this theory, as I understand it, is that government officials in our redistributive state simply cannot avoid serving their own agenda rather than the mythical public interest. There are two reasons for this, I think. One is that whenever people work, they tend to work for their own goals, first and foremost. Now this can sometimes be reconciled with a sincere professionalism, as when a medical doctor takes the oath to serve the interest of patients because doing so will also advance his or her interest. But in government that make impossible promises all over the place there is no way to actually serve the public interest since virtually all interests are private or special ones--that of artist, educators, farmers, veterans and so on. Serving the interest of these folks isn't serving the public interest but is often mislabeled so. And one must do one's service selectively. Among all the people who voted for someone and live in a politician's district, only some can be served and guess who those will be? Usually the ones who gave the greatest backing to the politicians who went to some capital, national or state, to do service. Thus to serve the public is hardly likely--the public, in fact, has but few common interests to be served anyway, even if by some miracle a politician really tried.

One reason a case such as Tom Daschle's is so routine, why the percentage of those who are party to such illegal behavior is high, is that in reality nearly everything politicians do in office is to help out private or special parties, never really the public at large as they claim or promise they do. and when these private or special parties want to repay the favor, for most it is contributions to some fund that helps reelect or otherwise support the politician. This is not actually, only nominally, different from provide the politician with various perks. So when they receive these perks in unconventional ways, instead as contributions to a fund, for example, they can hardly see the difference. Why then pay taxes on such benefits? One need not do so when one receive political contributions!

The entire welfare state is a theater of what economist call rent seeking, getting something legally at the expense of others. Sure, there is some effort to make it fair or at least provide a cover of fairness to it all but that's all a sham. It is like hypocrisy, the compliment vice pays to virtue.

What is gratifying to me about all of this is that President Obama turns out to be just as vulnerable to the corrupt ways of Washington as all those his campaign rhetoric was aimed at, all those naughty lobbyists he was going to expel from the changed nation's capitol. He should have studied public choice and I am actually surprised that as someone who taught law at the University of Chicago, where so much of public choice theory is discussed both by economic and law professors, he wasn't properly educated in the field.

A great advantage of limited government is that it would restrict the scope of governmental operations and thus minimize the opportunity for corrupt politics. As my favorite analogy--namely refereeing competitive games--to such a government shows, if you keep the job of the professionals limited to something they can in fact do, they will not very likely go astray. Otherwise all bets are off.

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