Bentham on Public Choice

Jeremy Bentham, from the sadly out-of-print Handbook of Political Fallacies:

In his [British M.P. William Gerard Hamilton's] eyes, Parliament was a sort of gaming-house; the members on the two sides of each house the players; and the property of the people, insofar as any pretense could be found for extracting it from them, the stakes to be played for...Whatever question is raised, the one consideration that is never taken into account by anyone is: what course will be for the advantage of the universal interest?

Change "his" to "their" and that's not a terrible nutshell-version of public choice theory.

Bentham, of course, wrongly believed that the problem was that Hamilton was simply a crappy legislator. So it's not as if Bentham was actually anticipating Buchanan and Arrow. Still, it's interesting that he was so close to seeing the problem, even if he didn't quite see that the problem is endemic to representative government. Although, given the obvious need for reform in Parliament during the first half of the 19th century, Bentham can perhaps be excused for thinking that a few structural reforms in Parliament would turn everyone into happy utilitarians.

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