Category: Politics

Public Choice Theory Inoculates People from Poor Policy

In places big and small, one of the many questions for residents is this: is holding government office, whether elected or appointed, a more virtuous way of life than private activity? 

If it should prove more virtuous, then one can reasonably contend that long-tenured government officials are, themselves, more virtuous than private citizens.

One could think of this as the theory of the noble Romans, as tribunes of the people, as selfless defenders of all.

This idea of government office as an especially noble calling is false: human nature does not change when a man or woman enters public office.  People are self-interested by nature, and this nature does not change when one sits behind a government desk. 

Of public and private, one is neither better nor worse than the other.  It’s the insistence that public life is a better way that presents countless problems for society.  There’s as much virtue in being a baker as there is in being governor.

It’s impossible, truly, to read early (and foundational) American political theory without seeing that the Founders understood that self-interest afflicts all, including government officials.

Needless to say, ceaselessly insisting that government work is noble work, as though government officials were contemplative monks in a monastery, gives government officials two false (but useful) claims to make against critics:

1.  That they should necessarily be given particular deference in society over private citizens, and

2.  That their ideas and plans should necessarily be given particular deference over private citizens’ ideas or assessments.

Neither claim is true, but they work a certain magic on the impressionable or insecure, rendering men and women who should live well and reasonably into mere subjects who live poorly and under a false impression.  
Public choice theory cures people of the false impression that a few government men are better than others, teaching correctly that human nature is the same among those in public or private life.

(This is, of course, a simplification of that theory, yet an accurate description of one of its key tenets.)

In the same way, the strength of human reasoning, and tools of analysis, are equally available to all, whether publicly or privately situated.  That a public man proposes a plan does not render the plan immune to the principles of reasoning available to private criticism.

The surest policies, to the extent anything is sure, come from officials who present simply and plainly, without grand claims or giddy anticipation, recognizing that useful assessments and critiques may come from any corner, including the many private residents within a community.  

For more about Public Choice Theory, see Key Insights of Public Choice Thinking @ the Cato Institute.

Posted at Daily Adams and FREE WHITEWATER

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Amash Wins in Michigan: Pro-Market Defeats Pro-Business Insider

Liberty-respecting Congressman Justin Amash of Michigan defeated a primary challenger put up by so-called business interests and other party insiders:

The Liberterian-minded Amash on Tuesday, Aug. 5, soundly beat Ellis, who billed himself as sort of the “anti-Amash” candidate for votes he considered out of touch with Third District voters. Countless endorsements, including the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce to Right to Life of Michigan, fell to Ellis’ side during the past few months, but it failed to carry voters to his camp.

Amash, R-Cascade Township, was up 57 to 43 percent as of 12:25 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 6. There were eight precincts left to report.

Amash wouldn’t take challenger Ellis’s phone call, and he was right not to do -why encourage a catspaw for the Chamber of Commerce —

“Brian Ellis, you owe my family and this community an apology,” Amash said. “You had the audacity to try to call me today after running a campaign that was called ‘the nastiest in the country.’

“I ran for office to stop people like you.”

In a stand-up fight (even a nasty one) between a liberty-oriented candidate and a tool of every insiders’ group in the community, a free-market candidate has a strong likelihood of winning.

Amash’s win is encouraging; who says there’s nothing positive in the news anymore?

Via Rep. Justin Amash defeats Brian Ellis: ‘I ran for office to stop people like you’ @

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‘Movers and Shakers’ Get It Wrong, Again

Across Wisconsin, a majority of counties are now issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. (As of Tuesday afternoon, the number was at 50 of 72 Wisconsin counties, or about seventy-percent of them. By Wednesday in my area, Rock, Jefferson, and Walworth County were issuing licenses to gay couples.)

(See, from Craig Gilbert of the Journal Sentinel, County decisions reflect shifting politics of gay marriage.)

Of those counties issuing licenses, 23 of them were counties that Mitt Romney carried in 2012, including 7 of the 12 most Republican counties in the state.

Needless to say, the most-significant impact is to those couples who have the liberty to marry.  Like all libertarians, I support marriage equality. 

But there’s a secondary, political consideration, too: How is it that neither Right nor Left expected so many conservative counties to begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses so quickly?

Even a year ago, both conservatives and liberals would have predicted significant conservative political resistance to same-sex marriage following a ruling like U.S. District Judge Crabb’s Friday ruling. 

That hasn’t happened.  In fact, as Craig Gilbert notes, Waukesha County is issuing same-sex marriage licenses, and it’s the most Republican county of its size in all America.

For a secondary topic, this is a story about how supposed insiders, influencers, and so-called opinion-makers have trouble understanding political trends even in their own, small Midwestern state.

The clerks in these conservative counties are hardly radicals; they’re Republicans and conservatives, themselves.

The swiftness of these changes shows how blind and out-of-touch self-designated elites are. Conservative cliques doubted this would happen; liberal cliques expected more controversy and resistance. 

This is what happens when one talks only to those in a small, like-minded circle.  The selection bias of conversation partners in these tiny circles is huge.  Far from being clever and cosmopolitan as they image themselves, they’re mostly dull, narrow, and lazy.

This is true of liberals and conservatives.  They’ve both been proved wrong and tone deaf.   

And, for it all, when their predictions go wrong, these movers and shakers are surprised: What, huh, me?  

It’s not the first time; it won’t be the last. 

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Rand Paul on Chamber of Commerce Republicans

Sen. Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, often moves (sometimes quixotically) between libertarian and conventionally conservative, Republican positions.

Still, there’s unquestionably some libertarian in him, and in his libertarianism he shares a dynamic philosophy (if not party label) with a huge number of other Americans (about 22%, or just under one-in-four people). 

Here’s what Paul, speaking to GOP activists, had to say about the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

“Chamber of Commerce is fine, I was a member of the Chamber of Commerce, but a Chamber of Commerce Republican is not going to win a national election….I’m not saying we give up on what we believe in, but we have to expand what we believe in….

The interesting thing about it is, as I go around the country, no matter who I talk to, whether it’s the establishment — the wealthy who support our party sometimes — or the poor, people say it’s time, time for this libertarian moment, this liberty moment,” he said. “It’s no longer something that scares people, it’s what [makes] people say, we can’t run the same-old same-old, we’re not going to win with the same-old, same-old.

Part of this is an appeal to an expanded base on issues beyond business issues.

But there’s much more to it, as small-government advocates like Nick Sorrentino well understand:

The big companies, the ones which have long partnered with the government to get a piece of the taxpayer pie would prefer that the true blue small government types just stay home and leave the “governing” to the party and industry hacks….

being pro-business and being pro-market are not the same thing. Big business likes government and regulations (often) because big business controls government and the regulatory process to a large extent. The Chamber of Commerce and the big companies which run the show there like government involvement. The Chamber might say that it is a champion of “free enterprise” but it is far from a champion. Free enterprise is actually pretty much NOT what many members of the Chamber of Commerce want.

Free enterprise, free markets, free prices are however increasingly what a very large portion of the American people want. They see an economy which is stagnant for most, while those who are entrenched in the crony class do well. The too-big-to-fail folks are sitting pretty these days.

The sloganeering of big-business and government cronyism is increasingly ineffective, and awaits a reckoning before a public sharper and fairer than a self-promoting, bloated clique comprehends. 

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Searching Whatever They Want, Whenever They Want

TAMPA, FL (WFLA) – “You think if anyone is going to break into your vehicle in Ybor, the last person you think, it’s going to be the cops.”

Matthew Heller didn’t know what to think when he found his truck ransacked and torn apart after leaving a concert in Ybor in February. Then, he found a note.

“There’s a little note left on a 2×3 piece of paper,” said Heller.

The note read “Sir, your car was checked by TPD K-9. The vehicle was searched for marijuana due to a strong odor coming from the passenger side of the vehicle.  Any questions call Cpl Fanning.”

TPD found no drugs in Heller’s truck. He was never charged or even questioned.

“It was all sealed up, a parked vehicle in a private parking lot for a hip hop concert in Ybor. There were all kinds of smells, everywhere around here,” said Heller….

Heller said he and his attorney have asked TPD for documentation of the search but he has not heard back. While TPD claims the search was legal, attorney Bryant Camareno doesn’t agree.

“It’s an illegal search,” Camareno said.  “Usually if it’s some kind of unoccupied vehicle there has to be some level of exigent circumstance to justify searching a vehicle without a search warrant. Exigent could mean if there is a dead body inside, if there is a screaming child locked in the car, a dog but if the car is unoccupied there is no exigency to justify the search.”

“I am out for the damages and my time but mostly I’m scratching my head and kind of confused with everything. I had no clue this was something that could happen,”said Heller.

Via Businessman upset about Tampa Police search of his truck @ WFLA News Channel 8.

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Why Don’t Politicians and Bureaucrats Get Any Better?

Someone wrote and asked me why I thought that politicians and bureaucrats don’t seem to learn from past mistakes.  When controversies arise, why don’t officials seem to improve, responsively, over time? 

Why do they seem to have learned almost nothing?

Well, many do learn and improve, but those who don’t are conspicuous.

I’ll suggest a few reasons that keep officials from learning from their mistakes. 

1.  They think they were right all long.  They simply deny that they made any mistakes. 

2.  They don’t care about broad public opinion.  Only the views of a few, like-minded insiders matter to them. 

3.  They’re not interested in policy, so they don’t understand the idea of policy mistakes.  It’s personality and visibility that matters to them, and it’s enough to be seen and included in a small circle of supposed luminaries. 

4.  They see change and revision as weakness.

5.  They have not been taught to think about more than one side of an issue. They reason and contend poorly not for lack of natural ability, but for lack of experience doing so. Habituated to a small, cosseted circle only increases their difficulty of anticipating other points of view, making counter-arguments, etc.  

(In small-towns, politicians expect – and receive – a compliant press.)

What’s so odd isn’t anything about these several points — most people would understand them intuitively. What’s odd is that a meaningful number of officials somehow fail to improve, despite improvement being so sensible and readily achievable. 

Members of declining factions can still see the need for others to change, in other failing organizations.

They rarely see this need in themselves, however, until it’s too late to make any meaningful adjustments.   

What’s left? 

They resort to grousing about how terrible things are among those in the next generation, and the smug but false contention that conditions were better when they still held genuine sway.

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It’s the Elderly Who Stand in the Way of Drug-Crime Reform

The average age of the three Republicans who voted for the bill — Sens. Mike Lee, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz — was 45.3 years old. The average age of the five Republicans who voted against the bill: 69.4 years old.

These days in Washington, there is a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers ready to change the U.S. criminal justice system, from changing drug laws and eliminating mandatory minimum sentencing to changing practices inside prisons like solitary confinement.

But standing in the way is a generation of older lawmakers who came of age politically during the 1980s and early 1990s when being tough-on-crime was a prerequisite for office.

Via Meet The Men Fighting To Keep Minor Drug Criminals In Jail @ BuzzFeed.

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The Libertarianism of Gamers


Political operatives looking to explore gamers as a voting bloc should know that gamers are more likely to identify themselves as independent than non-gamers and also are less likely to identify as Republicans. Reason-Rupe PollWhen independent gamers are pushed to identify leanings, they are more likely to lean leftward to the Democrats.

Mapping onto their partisanship, gamers are significantly less conservative and more liberal than those who never play video games. This can’t be wholly accounted for by the fact that gamers trend younger. Even within age groups, gamers lean more liberal and less conservative than their non-gaming peers.

But while they may lean more liberal, that doesn’t necessarily mean gamers are fans of a centrally planned government to deal with everybody’s Reason-Rupe Pollproblems. Gamers agree with non-gamers in supporting free market solutions over government intervention when possible, 52 to 43 percent. Gamers also believe (57 percent) that government is often an impediment in people’s ability to succeed. And 54 percent disagree with President Barack Obama’s views on the role of government.

Via What’s Libertarian About Gamers? @

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“Nope, the GOP Still Isn’t Libertarian”

Indeed, as Harry Cheadle writes:

Since the party’s 2012 defeat, there’s been a lot of talk in political publications about how to “fix” the GOP. Generally, writers have recommended that Republicans run candidates that have libertarian views on social issues so they can appeal to young people, which dovetails with an idea circulating in the blogosphere called “libertarian populism.” The latter is basically an ideology that is pro-free market, anti-interventionist when it comes to foreign policy, and opposed to both big government and big corporations. Those might be good ideas, but they don’t seem to have a constituency beyond a bunch of bloggers who need something to debate in between elections, and there has yet to emerge a flesh-and-blood candidate who is running for office on a libertarian, anticorporate, antiwar platform. The Republican Party hasn’t embraced libertarianism for the simple reason that the people who belong to the party and vote in its primaries aren’t libertarians.

Via Nope, the GOP Still Isn’t Libertarian | VICE United States.

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‘More Than Sharks Love Blood’


How does one explain politicians like Anthony Weiner, Eliot Spitzer, or Mark Sanford? They’ve kept returning no matter how risible their revealed conduct. Their particular motivations are known (if then) only to their families or therapists. It’s possible, though, that a suitable political explanation is available.

In the American version of House of Cards, Congressman Francis Underwood professes that he loves his political wife, Claire, ‘more than sharks love blood.’ It’s quite the description: Underwood’s describing his bond as a feeding instinct. Nothing higher-order about it: he simply needs Claire the way predators need food.

There’s something almost predictable about some politicians expressing that need, because there’s a part of politics (for some) that’s similarly elemental, beneath policy, programs, and philosophy: an insatiable desire to advance oneself, to promote oneself.

Some politics, even small-town politics, runs on the dangerous impulse to advance not a position but a person, not an idea but a man.

On a grand scale, the damage of this impulse is easily understood – most are taught to recognize insatiable ambition at a distance. Close at hand, one’s not so good at spotting its local equivalent. Personality and familiarity distort one’s judgment, and so we foolishly tolerate unprincipled striving, an overweening sense of entitlement, and ceaseless self-promotion.

We’d be foolish, though, to think that ambition of this kind exists only in faraway places, among New Yorkers or those living on the coasts.

It’s closer than that.

Posted also at Daily Adams.

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The Three Ways Policy Goes Wrong

How does public policy go wrong? I’m sure the answer’s not complicated.

There are a few principal ways, with all else being derivations: (1) bad information, (2) bad ideas, or (3) bad motives.

So either knowledge is poor, theory is poor, or ethics are poor.

I’ve organized the possibilities this way in order of severity, from least to most troublesome. Unsound information is most easily corrected, unsound theory some more difficulty, and unsound ethics with the most difficulty (if susceptible of correction at all).

Of ethics, a community may face either intentional misdeeds (lies, theft), objective conflicts of interest (self-dealing), or the occasional character flaw (laziness, a sense of entitlement, needy self-promotion, excuse-making, bigotry). One might separate character flaws into a fourth category, but I’ve classed them as ethical problems because their presence in matters of public policy acts as a cheat against the public, of resources or opportunity.

What’s missing here is an excuse for bad policy that is, in fact, almost never true: lack of intelligence. It’s not an excuse because the overwhelming number of people in a community don’t lack for intellect. There’s no immutable characteristic within a community, in fact, that inhibits good policy.

That’s true and fortunate, of course, as it means that there really is no good (insuperable) excuse for bad policy.

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Looking at Japan’s Past to See China’s Future

Over at the Financial Times Alphaville BlogJapan’s lessons for China, about state capitalist China’s systemic economic problems. (Those who write that China’s a perpetual juggernaut either don’t understand fundamental economics, don’t understand that fundamental theory applies universally, or most likely commit both errors).

The post outlines China’s four principal economic problems (per Stephen Green, Standard Chartered’s chief China economist), how Japan faced similar problems (per Lombard St Research’s Brian Reading and Diana Choyleva), how Japan’s temporary fixes failed (per Reading), and how China is trying to apply some of those same (sure-to-fail) fixes (Choyleva).

Solid analysis, all around.

China needn’t wind up with two lost decades of stagnation (“Stagnation, the default solution to excessive savings in the absence of structural reform”), as happened in Japan. China could avoid these Japanese-situation mistakes, but

Choyoleva says the party is also wedded to the idea of growth and many officials benefit directly from the status quo. While that’s possibly beginning to change, it does appear to remain a big conundrum and source of tension. It remains to be seen how much pain can be inflicted for longer term gain.

In the end, a sound economic analysis like Michael Pettis’s – that China could rebalance – runs up against political impediments of the kind that Minxin Pei so well describes.

Via Japan’s lessons for China.

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Gov. McDonnell of Virginia: Crony Capitalist or Old-Time Moocher??

The New Republic describes Bob McDonnell as a crony capitalist, but their own enumeration of his greed puts McDonnell in a more mundane (but wrong nonetheless) category of self-entitled moocher:

McDonnell has not lived up to Democrats’ worst fears as a religious-right zealot. Aside from that brief and disastrous flirtation with the transvaginal ultrasound, he has mostly left social-issue ideology to Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican nominee to replace him. But he has also veered from the Republican script as well. Sober, upstanding Bob McDonnell, we now know, has been on a term-long bender. The Washington Post’s ace reporters in Richmond have laid bare a seemingly endless stream of self-dealing in the Governor’s Mansion, most of it revolving around a major donor, a dietary-supplement entrepreneur, who has showered McDonnell’s family with gifts: picking up the $15,000 catering tab at McDonnell’s daughter’s wedding, buying McDonnell a $6,500 Rolex, and giving $70,000 to a corporation owned by McDonnell and his sister and $50,000 to McDonnell’s wife, a former Redskins cheerleader who has helped the donor, Jonnie Williams, Jr., market his controversial new dietary supplement with, among other things, an event at the Governor’s Mansion. Just to make things a little tackier, the governor and his family have allegedly been absconding with food and supplies from the mansion kitchen and improperly spending taxpayer money on all manners of personal goodies, including detox cleanses, energy drinks and trips to pick up his grown children’s dry cleaning.

Via Bob McDonnell Scandal in Virginia: Why Democrats Should Capitalize @ The New Republic.

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Meanwhile, the left is worried about flacking ObamaCare

Funny, but proponents don’t seem to be relying on the law’s own supposed strengths, anymore.

Kevin Drum writes that “Republicans will be relentlessly exploiting Obamacare’s rollout problems during next year’s midterm elections.”

If these rollout problems weren’t likely to be real problems, the left wouldn’t be so concerned about politics.

Via Democrats Better Start Selling Obamacare Soon @ Mother Jones.

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Florida Libertarian nets 43% of vote on platform to abolish his office

That’s the stuff:

Joseph Wendt, 2012 candidate for Florida’s Soil and Water Conservation Board, netted the largest Libertarian Party vote total in his state, and one of the largest in the nation, running on a platform to defund and abolish the board he was campaigning to join.

“I am going to be blunt, the board is a waste of your tax dollars,” Wendt wrote on his campaign website. “It has a budget of about a quarter of a million dollars. What do they do with it? They fund a poster contest, and have 2 full-time employees that act like plumbers and doesn’t fix anything. Gee, call me crazy, but I think your tax dollars should and can be better spent. So, I want the County to stop funding the Board.”

He realized that it would take more than that to keep taxpayer funds safe, though, and made the next logical step a centerpiece of his campaign.

Via Florida Libertarian Joseph Wendt netted 43% of vote on platform to abolish his office | Libertarian Party.

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