Dumb vs Evil

In general, I see two reasons why 'bad' policy gets enacted:

1) Politicians and their advisors are dumb.
2) Politicians and their advisors are evil.

Kevin Brancato highlights the second reason in his response to Don Boudreaux's citing of Robert Samuelson's column on politicians' refusal to face the facts about Social Security and Medicare.

Don notes that countless pundits have sounded the alarm bells on Medicare and SS; I would add that Alan Greenspan receives front page attention for his pronouncements on them. But these warnings make no difference whatsoever; the bulk of the opportunity costs of not implementing reform will be felt only in the future...

Besides, I'd argue that most people fundamentally accept some or all of the failings and trappings of social democracy--including the politicking of impossible promises--even though they have the feeling of living in a liberal democracy.

This lack of seriousness on the part of politicians should dull the brilliant hopes of future economic reformers grinding their way through Ph.D. programs in economics and public policy. Get this through your heads: policymakers will not listen to you about the big issues. Become an expert in a sub-sub-specialty that doesn't interest a Senator McCain or Senator Kennedy or any President.

I say this having done work which military policymakers actually implemented after considerable review. But that work did not impact the everyman; it was disconnected from political bickering, involving technical administrative details, rule changes, and the like.

I'd argue that the vast majority of politicians don't stick to their own principles when it can bring them needed advantage. The ROI is just too high. For this 99.x%, the soundness of policy (as judged by their own norms) comes second to scoring personal and political points. How are these points earned? By speculating in political currency--the exchange of principled action for votes and money. Political action is consistent; whether the issues are "hard" (cutting pork) or "easy" (adding it), the underlying power structure, and motives of the power brokers remain the same. Their political arithmetick calculates their own advantage, not yours.

A masterful politician weilds power over a wide selection of legislation, regulation, and taxation; when need be, politicos utilize the tools of "consensus" (i.e. bipartisanship, coalition governments, etc.) and game play among power brokers to keep the rate of return from decreasing. Politics is not about doing the right thing at the right time, even if packaged that way, and marketed by news media.

Constitutional economics, the research program of James Buchanan and others, is about devising and implementing political structures so that elephants like SS and Medicare are 1) hard to create in the first place, and 2) must be dealt with when they do. To achieve sound policy, rules (like a balanced budget amendment) must strangle legislative and executive plans and action; these rules must be enforced by other self-interested folks and vigorously discussed by the public. Getting sound policy otherwise is almost pure chance... It is trite to note that SS and Medicare could have never been implemented if the U.S. had kept to the letter of its founding Constitution. The U.S. hasn't kept to those rules, and there's a lesson to be learned from that.

Much as I'd like to believe that the ever-growing body of knowledge will eventually yield better policy, the structure of liberal democracy is a steep barrier. Even if reason #1 is overcome, reason #2 is still a great obstacle because it is, in my view, an inherent part of democratic government. Apropos the recent discussion of Voice and Exit, the only solution I can see is creating a structure of government in which Exit plays a much greater role and people who create and advocate public policy pay for nearly the entire costs of 'bad' public policy and reap nearly the entire benefits of 'good' public policy.

In other words, change public policy from a public good into a nearly private good. When this doesn't happen, programs like Social Security and Medicare are created and instead of taking responsibility for cleaning up the mess, politicians simply pass the buck to the next guy.

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"In other words, change

"In other words, change public policy from a public good into a nearly private good.

At which point it's no longer public policy.

I would put it another way: Convert public goods that people rely on government for to private goods.

And this must be done by *private* means; political remedies won't work for the very reasons you just cited.

May I suggest option

May I suggest option 3:

Politicians and their advisors are cowards.

I think that is the real meta-crisis behind Social Security reform, rather than stupidity or evil.

I think it is far more

I think it is far more often:

3) Politicians and their advisors are selfish, and act in their own self-interests.

For example, consider an advisor talking to a politician. If he gives the correct analysis, it will take years, if ever, for him to be proved correct. If he just tells the politician what he wants to hear, he helps secure his position immediately.

Social Security is another good example. Suppose that we cannot fix SS unless we either raise taxes or cut benefits (which seems to be true). So a politician can either piss off the workers, piss off the old people, or just keep ignoring the problem. The first two options will get him defeated in the next election, hence choosing the third is neither stupid nor malicious.

This third option supports your more general point. If politicians were just dumb or evil, perhaps we could find smart, good politicians. But the problem is the misalignment of politician and populace incentives, which can only be fixed by changing the whole system.

I think it is far more

I think it is far more often:

3) Politicians and their advisors are selfish, and act in their own self-interests.

That is what I meant by "evil". When politicians act selfishly, it comes at the expense of most people (except themselves and their particular voters/funders), unlike when I act selfishly in buying a bagel in the morning. Thus, "evil" rather than merely "selfish".

"That is what I meant by

"That is what I meant by â??evil". When politicians act selfishly, it comes at the expense of most people (except themselves and their particular voters/funders), unlike when I act selfishly in buying a bagel in the morning. Thus, â??evilâ?? rather than merely â??selfish"."

I think it's true that sufficiently virtuous men can produce government that is less bad than government produced by less virtuous men. The problem is that the operation of government naturally erodes the very virtues needed to check it, so we tend to end up with ever less virtuous men.

And this must be done by

And this must be done by private means; political remedies wonâ??t work for the very reasons you just cited.

It's not all-or-nothing. If liberty is a public good, it can still be supplied through politics. Public goods are supplied privately all the time, though it is often difficult to do so. Similarly, liberty might be supplied through politics periodically, though the odds are slim.

And how do you propose to

And how do you propose to change the mental disorder of altruism? its akin to writing legislation banning the flu or depression.

And how do you propose to

And how do you propose to change the mental disorder of altruism? its akin to writing legislation banning the flu or depression.

I have no problem with altruism. I admire the work of Mother Theresa and most churches in America. If you're asking how to change incentives in our favor, I believe that legal rules have to be structured such that people pay for their policy mistakes and reap the benefits of wise policy decisions.

"If youâ??re asking how to

"If youâ??re asking how to change incentives in our favor, I believe that legal rules have to be structured such that people pay for their policy mistakes and reap the benefits of wise policy decisions."

But given what you've recognized above, why would politicians or even voters adopt such rules?

People who are willing to bear the costs of their own decisions have no need of public policy in the first place.

"Constitutional economics,

"Constitutional economics, the research program of James Buchanan and others, is about devising and implementing political structures so that elephants like SS and Medicare are 1) hard to create in the first place, and 2) must be dealt with when they do. To achieve sound policy, rules (like a balanced budget amendment) must strangle legislative and executive plans and action; these rules must be enforced by other self-interested folks and vigorously discussed by the public. Getting sound policy otherwise is almost pure chanceâ?¦ It is trite to note that SS and Medicare could have never been implemented if the U.S. had kept to the letter of its founding Constitution. The U.S. hasnâ??t kept to those rules, and thereâ??s a lesson to be learned from that."

The lesson to be learned is that limited government is not possible.

But given what youâ??ve

But given what youâ??ve recognized above, why would politicians or even voters adopt such rules?

Please elaborate. I think you are again asking about the Prudent Predator, but I am not sure.

I guess what i'm saying is

I guess what i'm saying is its difficult to change the nature of the beast, which is driven by thier 'insatiable need' to steal from you to help others or themselves. Thats drilled into so many peoples heads since day one as correct behavior that there can be no political/legal way around it. They'll resort to anything legal or not to steal to supply thier habit. The problem exists at a far deeper level than constitutional adherence i'm afraid. its no different than crack addiction and appropriately originates in the same area of the brain.

JTK, With regard to your

JTK,

With regard to your most recent comment, you may be interested in this article on Public Choice Economics: "Do Pessimistic Assumptions About Human Nature Justify Government?"

A great demonstration of your observation that limited government cannot stay limited.

How to ensure good public

How to ensure good public policy
How about giving our representatives a stake in our welfare? If our representatives are given a deferred compensation based on some measure of National Income then they will have to pay (by reducing their pay) for 'bad' public policies and they will...

Ashish: they will merely lie

Ashish: they will merely lie or have some lackey re jig the figures and lie a la Greenspan to ensure continued 'love' towards them. Un elected officials are the worst of all. They're the real problem.

The ongoing philosophical

The ongoing philosophical discussion is stimulating and important to continue.

However there has been a great deal of this discussion going on for many years and, yet, I see little sign of libertarian or anarchocapitalist trends at the local, state or the federal levels. In fact the trends are pretty alarmingly in the other direction.

Perhaps it is time that some of this discussion be devoted to developing practical activities to begin the disintermediation of government.

"Perhaps it is time that

"Perhaps it is time that some of this discussion be devoted to developing practical activities to begin the disintermediation of government."

How refreshing a change that would be from having my empathy compared to the drug addiction of a crack addict.

Diana

"Please elaborate. I think

"Please elaborate. I think you are again asking about the Prudent Predator, but I am not sure."

I wasn't thinking of the Prudent Predator, my point was that the reasons you cite why government produces bad policy are the same reasons why politicians and voters won't tend to adopt better policies. To engage in the implementation of public policy is to invoke The Invisible Hand of Spontaneous Corruption.

"A great demonstration of

"A great demonstration of your observation that limited government cannot stay limited."

I've never understood why Buchanan, who ought to know this as well as anyone, spends his time trying to design better constitutions when public choice theory explains why you won't get from here to there via public policy.

Politicians do act dumb

Politicians do act dumb sometimes, but many of their decisions are very shrewd within a narrow set of ideological assumptions. I don't see how there's even going to be a progressions on #1- politicians aren't going to learn more and act better because they are acting for a certain reason. On behalf of those they act for they tend to do a very good job, so there's not much of an improvement that needs to be made. W/o popular pressure that is.

Take a look at a lot of the things you guys are so excited about RE the US gov't like our strong negative rights. Freedom of Speech and the right to privacy are what they are today not because of politicians acting smartly or benevolently (at least not in the way you guys are discussing the terms) but rather being pressured by the public via popular organizations. The same is true for other publicly beneficial legislation like the Wagner act and so forth. I'm sure I'm gonna hear about that one...

The system doesn't change because people either vote (though that could, work) or leave, but rather because people organize and oppose other powerful interests.

qwest wrote: "Ashish: they

qwest wrote:
"Ashish: they will merely lie or have some lackey re jig the figures and lie a la Greenspan to ensure continued â??loveâ?? towards them. Un elected officials are the worst of all. Theyâ??re the real problem. "

Yes that is possible but will it be plausible? Politicians have a legitimate way to profit from good public policies. Will it be worth for them to lie and cheat and take the risk of getting caught?

Secondly, the payment to politicians, in my scheme, is deferred. Thus, it will be determined when those politicians are not in power. How will they ensure that public servants lie on their behalf when they don't have the political power? They can always bribe but since they are not in power at that time the risk of getting caught is very high.

Also, if national income figures are inflated, so that yesterday's politicians are paid highly, the current politicians will have a problem getting paid highly when their turn comes. They have to doctor the figure progressively higher and higher until at one point of time they become absurd and thus risk is higher.

I wasnâ??t thinking of the

I wasnâ??t thinking of the Prudent Predator, my point was that the reasons you cite why government produces bad policy are the same reasons why politicians and voters wonâ??t tend to adopt better policies. To engage in the implementation of public policy is to invoke The Invisible Hand of Spontaneous Corruption.

Again, it's not an all-or-nothing proposition. Public policy *tends* toward corruption, but it's not a certainty that *every* single policy will be 'bad'. The Clipper Chip initiative was defeated. Homeschoolers have been winning the policy war through the 90's. Most people, including the most ardent statists, still support freedom of speech, religion, and press. The probability of 'good' policy increases with the number of people holding rational views. The battle is at the margin, not for capturing the whole.

Asish: you have explained

Asish:
you have explained EXACTLY what is happening. they are jacking it higher and higher(welfare state, currency devaluation, CPI ad nauseum.), without fear of reprisal. the whole gov't statistics racket is corruption, how could the electorate ever get to the bottom of it? it'll be litigation into the ends of time.