News & Analysis
The Voice of Public Choice Is Dead, Economist Lives On
Free exchange ... The voice of public choice ... James Buchanan, who died on January 9th, illuminated political decision-making ... A list of things that Americans judge more favourably than Congress, according to Public Policy Polling, a survey firm, includes colonoscopies, root canals, lice and France. America seems to have stumbled from economic crisis to political paralysis. That would have come as little surprise to James Buchanan, a Nobel prize-winning economist and the architect of "public-choice theory", who died on January 9th, aged 93. – The Economist
Dominant Social Theme: Democracy is terrible but the alternative is even worse.
Free-Market Analysis: James Buchanan is dead and we will not speak ill of the dead – nor should we in the case of the free-market oriented Buchanan.
But we can certainly point out that his death gives The Economist (that most insufferable of all "newspapers"), yet one more opportunity to do what its editors love to do best – ironically deconstruct modern Western political and economic systems with a kind of celebratory ruefulness.
The entire Economist magazine is an exercise in this kind of rhetoric. "Democracy is awful, and here's why ... " But no alternatives are offered, nor should there be. The motto of The Economist could be summed up as "Try Harder."
(This is not actually surprising since one of the owners of The Economist, Sir Evelyn Rothschild, has been on a pro-regulation public relations campaign for the past five years. When asked in various media situations why there should be more regulation when it so obviously hasn't worked, he is apt to reply that regulation has not been implemented properly nor applied adequately. In other words, it will work ... next time,)
So it is with The Economist, pointing out in its dreadfully witty way what we can learn from the last debacle as we trudge along to the next. Does this sound overly critical? Perhaps. But it is important, in our view, to point this out on occasion because of The Economist's extensive, if ill deserved, reputation for wit and clarity of thought.
It is, of course, a thought magazine, and one of the last remaining ones. Thought magazines were much prized by the power elite in the 20th century, having inordinate power to influence the intelligentsia that then went out and propounded various misguided pronouncements to the hoi polloi of the day.
It all worked ... well. The smartest people were quasi-communists and since the leveling meme was so attractive to so many top thinkers, Hollywood could make movies voicing similar sentiments that then set the cultural tone of the day. And so the virtuous circle rotated.
That's how directed history works, you see. The story has to be believable from start to finish. The meme cannot look like it's been inflicted. It has to seem self-generated, like rap or democracy. These are the dominant social themes of the elite. But they won't ever take the credit.
This is one more thing that has been lost in the 21st century. Large parts of the intelligentsia simply don't believe that government poses a good or even feasible alternative to the private economy. And smaller parts of the intelligentsia are actively libertarian.
This is a nightmare for the power elite that has struck back (as we know only too well) in numerous ways. One of the ways we've noted recently has been by seemingly fomenting a kind of neo-national socialism that proclaims the sanctity of the state sans usury and private banking. The model is Hitler's Germany without the overt anti-Semitism – which in most modern iterations is covert.
The goal always is the preservation of the state in some form so that the tool of mercantilism – the single necessary tool in the elite's tool bag – can be effectively utilized. The state can wear a tutu so long as it exists. If it exists, the elites are happy. They can work with it and use it to their own ends.
And so it is with The Economist, the editors of which bash the state every day. People buy the damn magazine – sorry, newspaper – to read its arch rendering of various state institutions and giggle on the way to or from work.
Every article deconstructs a political system or a portion of it and shows how things could be done much better. Thus, you see, the state and state players are mocked in every issue, along with powerful corporatists.
But one thing The Economist editors and writers will never ever do. They will never suggest the alternative.
They will never write a glowing obit for someone like Murray Rothbard, a founding anarcho-capitalist. Rothbard is dead now but he could die a thousand times and never reach the back page of The Economist.
But James Buchanan took the state seriously and devoted his life to its workings, and more importantly, to its failings. He may have disliked the state ... but public choice, as a theory, STUDIES the state.
That's good enough for The Economist. Here's an explanation from Wikipedia:
Public choice or public choice theory has been described as "the use of economic tools to deal with traditional problems of political science". Its content includes the study of political behavior. In political science, it is the subset of positive political theory that models voters, politicians, and bureaucrats as mainly self-interested. In particular, it studies such agents and their interactions in the social system either as such or under alternative constitutional rules. These can be represented in a number of ways, including standard constrained utility maximization, game theory, or decision theory. Public choice analysis has roots in positive analysis ("what is") but is often used for normative purposes ("what ought to be"), to identify a problem or suggest how a system could be improved by changes in constitutional rules, the subject of constitutional economics.
Buchanan's economic toolkit, or perversions of it, are used every day to evaluate political programs and the actors behind them. Again, perhaps he did not intend for this outcome – as he believed that optimum solutions were generated out of VOLUNTARY choice – much as F.A. Hayek and other Austrians did. But no matter.
The power elite does not need much to operate. It can hang on by the sliver of a fingernail. But that sliver must justify the state, celebrate its misery and remind us that it is a necessary evil.
Rothbard, in his merry way, dispensed with all of that. Laws are price fixes and price fixes never work as predicted. Anything the state can do via force, voluntarism can accomplish communally via private means.
To learn more about Murray Rothbard and the many other voices of Austrian economics and free-market thinking, consider the resource recommended in this Daily Bell Special Report: Become Part of an Exclusive Circle: A Unique Free-Market Club Really Worth Joining!
Conclusion: We're partial to that conclusion, though we do recognize the contributions made by Mr. Buchanan to economic theory.
Posted by Spectator on 02/20/13 07:16 AM
Something to add to your perspective, elves: the ruminations of Dave Henderson of Trade with Dave. There may be significant overlap in your outlooks. See Click to view link for a recent example.
Posted by the_IRF on 02/19/13 10:51 PM
This type of thing might be another reason some 54% of Americans distrust their government (afraid? see the enemy as?)
"Orly Taitz Press Release: Click to view link Clerks of the Supreme Court never forwarded to 5 out of 9 Justices one single page of pleadings, they ... "
Press release: clerks of the Supreme Court
never forwarded to 5 out of 9 Justices one single page of pleadings,
they also did not forward to any of the Justices the Supplemental Brief.
Demand for investigation forwarded to Congressman Goodlatte, Chair of
the Judiciary Committee of Congress
Oooops. Well it can't really be all that important, can it? Right?
I mean the peons know what is right, right?
This is what happens when you have bureaucracies filled with members of government employee unions running the actual day-to-day operations of our federal institutions. This insanity must be brought to an end!
Posted by jetgraphics on 02/19/13 08:07 PM
'Democracy is terrible but the alternative is even worse.'
Such a belief, especially in an American, is a victory for the World's Greatest Propaganda Ministry. It has effectively erased all memory of the Republican form and replaced it with the Socialist Democratic form.
Few Americans know the facts about their unique situation in history and in the world. Despite numerous revolutions and regime changes since 1776, there is still only ONE nation that espouses a republican form of government. (See: Art. 4, Sec. 4, USCON) Ironically, its own people have no awareness of their birthright of sovereignty, freedom and independence, so quickly lost to the 'voluntary' siren song of socialism and submission to the State.
Only in America are the people sovereign, not subjects of their respective governments - unless they consent. Every other nations' people are subjects from birth to death.
Yet the well indoctrinated / educated American serf believes that the constitutionally limited indirect democracy is 'the republic' and assumes that must be the 'republican form' promised in the USCON. But that is incorrect. And so tragic. For the Founders created a government to serve, not rule, the sovereign people, and they have thrown it all away, and embraced the bindings of bureaucracy and submission to the Collective State, from which all privileges flow. Their children's children will curse their names and memories, for being so foolish.
Posted by seer on 02/19/13 07:47 PM
This inspired me to read James Buchanan. Sounds like a pragmatic approach to cultural/economic engineering but I will not know until I read more. What's more no one has explained how this system of Corporatocracy could be easily converted to a true free market.
Posted by Abu Aardvark on 02/19/13 05:39 PM
NYT: "Rise of Drones in U.S. Drives Efforts to Limit Police Use"
Click to view link
Posted by Abu Aardvark on 02/19/13 05:37 PM
Ah, The Economist ...
"Minimum human wages"
Click to view link