David R. Henderson  

Do They Care?

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While many people dismiss insights from public choice, what's striking is its casual acceptance in conversation and discussion.

Keith Hennessey posted today about the odds on various things happening with the Senate's and House of Representatives' proposed tax increases, aka, health care "reform."

Here are two particularly interesting passages. First one:

Congressional Democrats appear to believe that enactment of a comprehensive law is critical to their re-election. Most seem to believe that a White House signing ceremony is more important than the contents of the bill that becomes law.

In other words, what matters to them is that they do what's necessary to get reelected regardless of the contents.

And this:

The bills being developed would increase private health insurance premiums for most and bend the private cost curves up, but you don't hear the White House protesting. It's easier to get a bill when you don't care too much what's in it.

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CATEGORIES: Public Choice Theory

COMMENTS (12 to date)
jlr writes:

Your concern is valid, the legislators should care more about the content of laws than about re-election. However, describing this as one party problem is naive and, frankly, just this side of ignorant.

David R. Henderson writes:

I'm not sure what "this side of ignorant" is, but I didn't describe it as a one-party problem. Notice that this post is about public choice, not about Democratic Party choice. The Republicans are just as bad, if not worse, on war.

David, the critique of public choice is that that it says that's true is trivial, and that what it says that's not trivial is false.

You're giving an example of the first. What reader of a newspaper or political scientist going back, say, to Machiavelli did not know that politicians need to do things to acquire power? Repeating this in theoretical form is trivial.

What would not be trivial is showing that *all* politicians care about is power (or money). But such a finding would be false.

Sorry, should read "what it says that's true is trivial..."

[The preview button is on the blink.]

R. Richard Schweitzer writes:

Actually, the tacticians for "change" in the U S healthcare system aim to drive the private sector cost curve upwards at an accelerating rate.

The effect will be to cause those impacted to succumb to provisions for cost redistribution through governmentaly directed operations.

steve writes:

What scares me about the non-trivial conclusions of public choice isn't that all that politicians care about is getting re-elected. This is trivially false and not what I believe the theory implies.

I agree more with R. Richard that the non-trivial implication of public choice is that some politicians may be deliberately intending to make a problem worse while claiming to fix it.

Presumably the motivation for this duplicity would be to profit politically from the future crisis by blaming it on actors literally framed by the implications of the original bill.

steve writes:

Actually, maybe this conclusion is trivial after all. Certainly, Machiavelli would have approved.

mobile writes:

Public choice theory predicts that politicians will dismiss public choice theory.

Randy writes:


"What would not be trivial is showing that *all* politicians care about is power (or money). But such a finding would be false."

Actually, I think there is very solid evidence that the statement is true. Politicians never create and offer a service with a risk that no one will pay for it. They make us pay first and then design some level of "service" that ensures them a profit. That is, they always take the money (and power) up front.

R Richard Schweitzer writes:

As a corollary: Keep in mind that practically all complex legislative constructs are done by the un-elected (staffs), not those who will face the electorate.

It has become more important to understand the make-up of those un-elected and how they come to their posts and with what agendae.

This issue is a great overlooked factor in both the proliferation of legislation and the disconnect between the electorate and the mechanism of federal (or large state) government.

R. Richard Schweitzer

The Cupboard Is Bare writes:

"In other words, what matters to them is that they do what's necessary to get reelected regardless of the contents."

Why that is:

Providing they bother to read anything at all, most people go only so far as to look at the headlines or, in the case of the slightly more industrious, the first line or two from each article. They listen to radio stations that recycle the same news every 10 minutes. The information they pick up from the Internet is what they happen to notice at Yahoo! when they retrieve their e-mails. Most of what they watch on television is commentary that supports their point of view, but provides very little detail.

They select their representatives based upon the claims made in the campaign junk mail they receive.

As a result, most people are clueless when it comes to issues such as National Healthcare and will remain clueless until it affects them personally. Unfortunately, by then it will be too late. :\

Mike Jones writes:

It looks like this is another clear example of the Principal-Agent problem inherent in our representative form of government. The incentives of the agent (congressman) are not aligned with the best interest of the principals (electorate) in our government. I still believe, to paraphrase Churchill, a representative democracy is the worst form government except for all the others that have been tried.

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