Interests are More Powerful than Ideas?


by Mario Rizzo

There is an interesting interview with Ed Feulner, the outgoing president of the Heritage Foundation, in the weekend (Dec. 8-9) Wall Street Journal. The interview got me thinking about the progress made in the pro-economic-liberty cause, not only over the years of Heritage, but since, say, 1960. Continue reading

President Obama’s State of Regulation

by Chidem Kurdas

Barack Obama sounded a number of themes in his 2012 State of the Union Address this week, all underpinned by the proposition that socioeconomic ills can be solved by interventionist government in general and his administration in particular.

Indiana governor Mitch Daniels, giving the Republican rebuttal, effectively replied to the main claims. He pointed to the failure of  the President’s “grand experiment in trickle-down government.” Programs spend borrowed money in attempts to boost the middle class. “In fact, it works the other way: a government as big and bossy as this one is maintained on the backs of the middle class,” Mr. Daniels said.

Mr. Obama’s points about regulation drew less attention. Continue reading

Spending Cuts and Politics of Bureaucracy

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.” Continue reading

Two Takes on Political Donations

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. Continue reading

The Calculus of Consent II

by Gene Callahan

In Chapter 5, “Organization of Human Activity,” Buchanan and Tullock discuss what constitutes a “rational” choice concerning social arrangements. They write, “We have assumed that the rational individual, when confronted with constitutional choice, will act so as to minimize his expected costs of social interdependence, which is equivalent to saying that he will act so as to maximize his expected ‘utility from social interdependence’.”

They then create three categories of costs, “(1) purely individualistic behavior, a; (2) private, voluntary, but jointly organized behavior, b; and (3) collective or governmental action, g.”

They then analyze all possible orderings of a, b, and g. This is all well and good, but it strikes me as rather empty of oomph. If these “costs” are defined narrowly, then the analysis is plainly false — I may use method b to organize my BBQ because I like socializing, despite the fact it would be far “cheaper” to just cook dinner for myself. But if one defines the costs broadly enough, so that we include the “cost” of not having friends around, the analysis becomes vacuous — all that is being said is that people pick the things they prefer, and all of the ordering business becomes pointless. Continue reading

The Calculus of Consent and Rawls

by Gene Callahan

I have a confession to make: I’m currently reading The Calculus of Consent for the first time. I thought it might be interesting and useful to post some of my thoughts on the book here. (And, please note, I’m posting to a blog, not writing a research paper — I am not doing a literature review to see if someone else has noted similar thoughts at some point.) First of all, consider this passage:

“For individual decisions on constitutional questions to be combined, some rules must be laid down; but, if so, who chooses these rules? And so on. Continue reading