Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Public Choice Theory is Overlooked

Public Choice Theory is Overlooked

Tibor R. Machan

Whenever public officials promise to manage affairs of state, I am baffled how they fail to pay heed to public choice theory.  This is the idea, for which the late, great James Buchanan, earned his Nobel Prize (an idea he developed with his friend and colleague Gordon Tullock in the book The Calculus of Consent: Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy [Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1962].).  

The gist of it is that public servants, so called--politicians, bureaucrats, and their colleagues--tend to promote goals of their own even as they claim to be serving the public interest.  And this is not very difficult to grasp.  

The public is, after all, a vast number of citizens whose interests vary enormously so it is a pure myth that there is a public interest that can be served by public servants.  Given this plain fact, whose interest will public servants serve?  The interest they consider important.  

In the last analysis the so called public interest is really the private interests public officials like best.  Even the democratic process cannot sort out what the public interest is. (The best approximation is put forth by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence where he identifies securing the protection of our basic rights as the purpose for which government is established, i.e., the public interest.)

Despite the hopelessness of pursuing and serving the public interest, politicians and their cheerleaders keep pretending that they have managed to overcome the hurdles facing them and assert that they are public servants instead of folks whose objectives are determined by lobbyists who represent innumerable, often conflicting, private and special interests.

I am confident that if one keeps the above in mind, one will have a clear picture of what is going on all the time in Washington, D.C. and other centers of political power.  Intentionally or not, the public servants are all serving private and special interests and are hoping that their own calculation of how to line these up will assure their reelection.  Because they all believe, earnestly, that somehow they will manage to figure out what is best for the country--or nation or state or the people or some equally nebulous body they claim they want to serve. (Or they are crooks!)

If they came to terms with public choice theory and learned the lesson it teaches, they would realize that the only public interest they can possibly serve is to secure the protection of the right to liberty of all citizens of the country.  These citizens will then figure out what is in their own interest and pursue it good and hard in their own sphere of influence, with their own families, friends and fellows.  

Until and unless this is acknowledged and implemented by our so called public servants, there will simply continue a Hobbesian war of all against all to get a more or less sizable portion of the public wealth.  And even the current worries about the national debt can best be understood as a result of this failure to appreciate the implications of public choice theory (as well as the tragedy of the commons).

Monday, April 08, 2013

Corruption of Individual Rights

The Corruption of Individual Rights

Tibor R. Machan

Whenever a good idea surfaces, there will surely be many who will try to hitch their wagon to it filled with corrupt versions that aim to serve numerous purposes having little to do with the original good idea.  One example is the idea of individual natural human rights.

Some simply disagree with the idea, like Jeremy Bentham did, denouncing it in various terms (e.g., “nonsense upon stilts”). Others do not like going about it straightforwardly.  Instead they try to recast the idea to mean what it didn’t.  A good case in point is the idea of welfare rights.

The rights John Locke identified as belonging to every adult human being are prohibitions, aimed at spelling out a sphere of personal jurisdiction, a private domain, for us all, one within which the individual is sovereign, the ruler of the realm as it were.  For example one’s right to private property spells out the area of the world that one is free to use and roam with no need for anyone else’s permission; to enter this realm one must give one’s permission without which others must remain outside.  One’s right to one’s life is similar.  No one may interfere with one’s life without having gained permission, not even someone who means to do one no harm but only provide help (e.g., a physician).

The point of such rights is to recognize that every adult person is in charge of his or her life and property and others must not intrude.  Why is this important?  Because people make significant decisions about how they will live and if others intrude, these decision become distorted.  Basic rights carve out the region of the world where the individual is in charge!

This is of course an irritant to all those who would just as soon have other people available to be used, bothered, nudged, and so forth.  The tyrant is fended off by individual rights, as is the meddlesome legislator and regulator.  So instead of accepting this, such folks are bent upon recrafting the idea of individual rights.  Welfare rights are like that.  If one has a basic right to welfare, it means others must become involuntary servants to one’s objectives and may not tend to their own affairs in peace. The idea of basic individual rights establishes peace among people.  They must deal with one another by consenting to the various projects one might support.  One may not be conscripted and robbed.  And this is inconvenient, of course, to people who don’t want to bother about gaining the consent of those whose support they seek.  Instead of convincing them of the merits of their projects, they can skip this troublesome step and just tax and draft and otherwise make people serve them whether or not they want to.

People of course often should help others but that must be done voluntarily.  There is no merit to such help if it coerced! To avoid the perception that one’s support is coerced, the idea of welfare rights is fabricated!  This needs to be resisted good and hard!