TeeJaw Blog

Introduction to Public Choice Theory

Posted in Government and Politics by TeeJaw on Wednesday, October 19, 2011, 11: 25 AM

You many have heard of “Public Choice Theory”, the name for the scholarship that won James M. Buchanan a Nobel Prize in Economics in 1986.  If you aren’t familiar with it the short answer is that it explains how and why government economic policy is set not by anything to do with the principles of economics or economic growth or maintaining a good economy but rather is based on the perceived self interest of the politicians and bureaucrats who make the “public choices” that determine the policy.  This book does much to give the reader an introduction to public choice theory, a stark and realistic introduction to some hard realities our rulers in Washington D.C., or on your local City Council for that matter, might not want you to think about too seriously.

Remember when Silicon Valley, the area around San Francisco Bay, and San Jose, California, was once the wealthiest area in the country.  Silicon Valley wealth was driven by invention and entrepreneurism.  The area where people earn large salaries and make the big bucks has moved to Washington D.C. and environs, the center of big government.   The new wealth is derived and concentrated in ever-expanding government and is based on a muscular application of Public Choice Theory.

From the book description:

Remember when we used to call government employees “public servants”? They’re servants no more—now they’re bureaucratic masters of the universe, claiming inflated salaries (up to two times as much as private sector employees) and early retirement with unparalleled pensions and benefits. And how do they spend their time? When they’re actually working, they spin red tape and regulations that make your life harder (and their lives easier), your taxes higher, and your share of the nation’s debt unsustainable.

Like true bureaucrats [and cockroaches] they like to scurry around in the dark, doing their mischief outside of public scrutiny. But no longer: Iain Murray—author of the rollicking exposé The Really Inconvenient Truths—knows all about bureaucrats and their lairs, because he used to be one himself. In Stealing You Blind he blows the whistle on the out-of-control bureaucracy whose greed could actually tip our country into a financial abyss.

This all reminds us of some basic principles of human nature, perhaps best captured in this quote by Montesquieu: it is an eternal experience that every man who holds power is drawn to abuse it; he will proceed until he finds the limits.

The founding fathers understood that government is necessary because men are not angels.  They also understood that the government would therefore not be run by angels, and that powerful limitations must be imposed on government and those who hold the seats of power.  The Constitution they wrote has that as it’s central purpose, to create a system of federalism where the national government is one of enumerated and limited powers.  The people must stand up and insist that those principles be followed for it to work.

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