Old Wisdom for New Year

by Chidem Kurdas


New year, new government, new policies, new promises. How about some wisdom distilled from the past? Here is a selection of quotes I find illuminating.


Since (the legislature) possesses authority to arrange everything, it cannot refuse responsibility for anything. There will be no particular grievance which it will not be regarded as capable of removing … However, it is a fact that most of the grievances of particular individuals or groups can be removed only by measures which create new grievances elsewhere. …

Friedrich Hayek, Law Legislation and Liberty; v. 1, University of Chicago Press, 1973, pp. 143-144


The romantic image of the state as an omniscient and benevolent entity, an image that has been around since Hegel, was shattered by the simple observation that those who act on behalf of the state are also ordinary humans, like the rest of us, who respond to standard incentives within the limited informational setting they confront.

James Buchanan, The Economics and Ethics of Constitutional Order; University of Michigan Press, 1991, p.35.


There is, first, no such thing as a uniquely determined common good that all people could agree on or be made to agree on by the force of rational argument.   … to different individuals and groups the common good is bound to mean different things.

Josef Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy; Harper & Row,  3rd ed., 1950, p. 251.


The beauty of all this increased spending, of course, is that every dollar of it lands in somebody’s pocket. Those to whom the pockets belong make a practice of lobbying hard for increased military spending, and they are prepared to compensate in various ways, some legal and some not, the politicians and bureaucrats who steer the money their way.

Robert Higgs, “The Iraq War: A Catastrophic Success” in The Independent Review; Fall 2008, p. 303.


Private actors making choices for themselves, and bearing the costs and benefits of those choices, at least have the incentive to root out their errors and correct them.  … Public decision makers, by contrast, do not face all the costs and benefits of their choices.

Glen Whitman and Mario Rizzo, “Paternalist Slopes”  NYU Journal of Law & Liberty; v.2. pp. 442-443


Most of the gigantic volume of laws, and for that matter the even more gigantic volume of regulations, are never read by the nominal decision-makers, or indeed by any single individual inside or outside the legislature. They are closely scrutinized by attorneys seeking to use them for private advantage.

Gordon Tullock, Rent Seeking; Edward Elgar, 1993, p. 32.


Congress would do well to observe Adam Smith’s dictum, as relevant today as it was in the eighteenth century, that “the tax which each individual is bound to pay ought to be certain, not arbitrary. …the quantity to be paid, ought all to be clear and plain…” The US tax code – at over 16,000 pages, ten times the length of War and Peace and without an appealing plot – does not meet these clarity and consistency objectives. Public equity would best be served by a wholesale simplification …

Adam Creighton, “Taxing Private Equity,” Policy Review; April & May 2008, p.33.


We shall never prevent the abuse of power if we are not prepared to limit power in a way which occasionally may also prevent its use for desirable purposes.

Friedrich Hayek, The Road to Serfdom; University of Chicago Press, 1944, p. 336.

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