Art Carden  

Interest is Special, Says Special Interest

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Regular readers of EconLog know that I, like Bryan Caplan, try to follow Rolf Dobelli's advice and Avoid News.

Here's one reason why. Scan the headlines and look for claims about programs that are Obviously Good Ideas, according to Some Source. Too often, articles like these quote a member of a special interest group claiming that (surprise!) his interest is special--not out of any selfish motive, of course, but because funding this interest will produce spillover benefits for everyone else in the city/state/region/country/world.

A lot of special pleading is incomplete, and therefore, it's very seductive. How often have you seen a claim that reduces to "We Would All Be Better Off If This Were a a Free Lunch and We Accepted It"? The solution, of course, is to ask the rare questions: At What Price? Who Pays?


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COMMENTS (4 to date)
Arthur_500 writes:

Kleenex is a specific brand of facial tissue. Xerox is a specific brand of copy machine. However, these brands have become nouns.

Go get the Kleenex on top of the Xerox

The media has utilized the term

Special Interest Group
in a negative manner to indicate that those interests are bad. We have the Girl Scouts and Greenpeace lobbying for wonderful things for our society. However, in spite of the fact that most people utilize lumber or electricity, or plastics, any lobby that would work on behalf of those industries is a Special Interest Group.

No duh. Of course it is a special interest. But so are the interests of healthcare, police, child care or education. Don't you think educators have a special interest in preserving their income, benefits, or lock on providing necessary degrees?

LD Bottorff writes:

Who isn't part of a special interest group? Doesn't the First Amendment guarantee our right to petition the government for redress of grievances?

It grieves me terribly that I haven't figured out more ways to seek rent.

R Richard Schweitzer writes:

Some writers, in the interest of clarity have begun to use the term "particular" rather than "special" in discussing the conflicting interests of individuals and groups.

We appear to have succumbed to a misunderstanding of the political interpretation of "general" in discussing welfare (qua interests). This may apply to "non-welfare interests" as well. All this is historically similar to the concept of a "common will."

Think of the things accepted as issues of "general welfare." Social Security is for the benefit of a particular class of individuals who survive beyond the average mortality of now antiquated actuarial tables. Medicare is for the particular benefit of persons within particular age categories. Similarly SCHIP is for particular classes and categories; etc., etc.

We have come to see "public use" applied as the particular interest of the operations of mechanisms of local and state governments.

Ignoring, or displacing, the "general" with the "particular" has been a major source of the fragmentation of civil (non-governmental) society.

John Fembup writes:

One of Rolf Dobelli's suggestions is to "[r]ead magazines . . .which explain the world -- . . . The New Yorker"

My first reaction was: Really? The New Yorker?

But then I decided Dobelli mentions The New Yorker because its cartoons are "purely entertaining."

Anyway, for a number of years, I've leafed thru The New Yorker from back to front, looking only at the cartoons. Now I'm greatly entertained - and no longer greatly annoyed - by the magazine. Which I think is Dobelli's point.

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