Archive for the 'Public Choice' Category

Spending Cuts and Politics of Bureaucracy

August 1, 2011

by Chidem Kurdas

I just read The Politics of Bureaucracy by Gordon Tullock, one of the best books written on the behavior of bureaucrats. Although originally published in 1965, it remains very much relevant today, especially as the debt deal currently in Congress could bring spending caps on programs administered by numerous bureaucracies. These entities implement policy changes, yet efforts to rein in government spending or impose new regulation typically pay little or no attention to their behavior.

Professor Tullock derives his insights from the basic observation that when embedded in an administrative hierarchy that is supposed to serve some – typically vague – public interest, people remain individuals; they still have their own preferences and interests. This is nicely expressed in the foreword by James Buchanan, who paraphrases Adam Smith’s well-known dictum about the butcher, the brewer or the baker. I will further paraphrase his take on Smith: “It is not from the benevolence of the bureaucrats that we expect our budget savings and better rules, but from their regard to their own interest.” Read the rest of this entry »

Japan Reveals Regulatory Trap

June 7, 2011

by Chidem Kurdas

Once upon a time, people tried to explain the post-war “Japanese Miracle” of rapid growth. Then in the current century, the puzzle shifted to Japanese stagnation since 1990. The lesson from these two distinct phases of Japanese history is germane for current American policy.

Chalmers Johnson’s influential book, MITI and the Japanese Miracle (1982), examined how the powerful Ministry of International Trade and Industry had guided and regulated the economy.  MITI implemented industrial policy in what Mr. Johnson called a defining characteristic ofJapan, namely close collaboration between politicians, economic bureaucrats and big business.

MITI’s successor, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, promoted the use of nuclear power. The ongoing problems at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant threw new light on METI. The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., is a monopoly fostered by regulators. The government announced that the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency will now be separated from the Ministry, to give it greater independenceRead the rest of this entry »

Why Dodd-Frank is Dud-Blarney

May 31, 2011

by Chidem Kurdas

It is a shame that Christopher Dodd  did not become a lobbyist earlier, before he teamed up with Barney Frank to sponsor the Dodd-Frank Act. Mr. Dodd first helped set into motion a fast-expanding web of obscure bureaucratic dicta for almost all financial activity, then took a lucrative job as Hollywood lobbyist.

As Richard Epstein writes in National Affairs, the new financial law is notably vague and broad, granting vast discretion to government bureaucracies, giving them the wherewithal to waive or soften requirements for some parties while riding hard on others.  Read the rest of this entry »

Is Economics a Public Good? How Would We Know?

May 16, 2011

by Mario Rizzo

What is the economic justification for using tax money to subsidize the production of economic research? The standard answer is that academic economists produce a public good. In other words they produce knowledge for which they do not charge and for which it is not feasible to exclude non-payers.

Let’s accept this basic paradigm and see where it takes us. Read the rest of this entry »

Public Unions vs. the Real Underdog

March 12, 2011

by Chidem Kurdas

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker successfully made the financial case to limit collective bargaining by public unions. Not only have the unions imposed an immense burden on taxpayers, present and future, but they create bureaucratic rigidities that cause dysfunction and, in financial crunches, layoffs of promising employees.

Yet in recent weeks it has become noticeable that these points fail to persuade many Americans.  The Wisconsin bill that just passed and similar reforms in other states face furious opposition, including appeals to the public.  Perhaps it’s not a bad idea to highlight another aspect of government unions, in addition to the purely economic issues.

We need to understand why part of the public supports unions. The best explanation that I’ve seen is from Richard Epstein in Free Markets Under Siege, a 2005 book that analyzes unions and agricultural price supports as examples of cartels in different markets.  These cartels impose social costs and require special dispensation from antitrust law. Why did the rest of the population accept the costs?  “Never underestimate the enhanced political sympathy when the underdog seeks to gain state power,” Professor Epstein points out. Read the rest of this entry »

Egypt Best Case Scenario via Korea

February 10, 2011

By Young Back Choi and Chidem Kurdas

Compared to the turmoil in the Middle East, South Korea appears to be an oasis of calm. But as recently as 20 or so years ago you could  still smell tear gas on the streets of Seoul. Violent demonstrations shook the city for decades—-making it look like Cairo today.

Despite continuing tensions with North Korea, Seoul is now relatively peaceful and the economy is humming along. How did South Korea get out of the cycle of angry protests and government repression?  Read the rest of this entry »

Voters’ Best Interest

December 17, 2010

by Chidem Kurdas

Ronald Dworkin, a well-known legal scholar, describes last month’s election results as depressing and puzzling. In a commentary in the New York Review of Books, he asks, “Why do so many Americans insist on voting against their own best interests?”  Read the rest of this entry »

Friedman on Social Security Reform

November 5, 2010

by Chidem Kurdas

This may be a good time to revisit Milton Friedman’s proposal for reforming all entitlement programs and social security, in one fell swoop. His idea goes back several decades but is no less powerful in its simplicity. A serious discussion on reform may now start with the Roadmap put forth by Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, the next chairman of the House Budget Committee.   Read the rest of this entry »

Two Takes on Political Donations

October 24, 2010

by Chidem Kurdas

The Wall Street Journal reports that the biggest campaign spender of 2010 is a public sector union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which lavished $87.5 million on helping Democrats. This single union outspent the US Chamber of Commerce, which came second with $75 million.

Reading the WSJ article by Brody Mullins and John D. McKinnon, I thought that AFSCME is giving taxpayer money to politicians who will help it further pick my pocket.  Whereas had I confined myself to reading the New York Times’ front-page piece on the same topic, I would have had no such concern, because there is no mention of AFSCME.  The NYT campaign finance story focuses entirely on the US Chamber of Commerce and says not a word about the public union. Read the rest of this entry »

Equality Destroyed in the Name of Equality

October 19, 2010

by Chidem Kurdas

Law and government should treat people equally. This old principle may seem obvious and firmly in place, but in fact it’s much violated. Instead, the focus is on income distribution. Thus Robert H Frank in the NYT points to the bad effects of income inequality – like people spending too much money to emulate the rich – and suggests we “try to do something about it.”

His column about the costs of income differences shows no awareness of the costs of equity-promoting policies.

Attempts to create income equality erode equality  before the law, as F. A. Hayek made clear. The Road to Serfdom – the historic experience as well as the title of Hayek’s book – is paved with egalitarian good intentions.  If you feel “serfdom” is too extreme a word, the operative term here is “the road”. Read the rest of this entry »

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