4 thoughts on “Why do the worst get on top? An answer from Public Choice”

  1. Posted 21/01/2013 at 15:34 | Permalink

    Ah, I have enjoyed that post! Thank you. And I would like to add some further research.
    The conclusion that politicians are opportunistic players looking only for their own benefit (and not afraid of cheating to get it) can also be drawn from Down’s economic theory of democracy, however, with Downs being a proponent of public choice theory that conclusion is not surprising. But, there is another great work done by Robert Michels in the early 20 century (I think was originally published in 1911) called Political Parties – A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracies that does the groundwork to develop the “iron law of oligarchy”, which shows the inevitability for modern democracies to become pray for opportunists and those, who cannot make a living by doing any kind of job that requires competencies and capabilities and knowledge. Quite intriguing if you think about it, its more than 100 years old that book!


  2. Posted 21/01/2013 at 15:49 | Permalink

    Posting a picture of Hayek alongside the title ‘Why do the worst get on top?’ – Perfect!

    More seriously, your post would be more honest if you dropped all instances of the word ‘political’ everywhere in the post. The major failing of libertarianism is its willful blindness to all the non-governmental sources of power that the strong can use to oppress the weak.

  3. Posted 21/01/2013 at 16:13 | Permalink

    Yes, though we should always put the ‘knowledge problem’ next to the ‘incentive problem’. Power should be limited not simply because of the reasons outlined here but because even those with entirely pure intentions lack the necessary knowledge to create beneficial outcomes.
    Ultimately, however, I think the problem has become – or maybe always was – less one of ‘why should government be limited?’ but of ‘how can government be limited?’. There’s nothing new in PCT really – in different ways Classical Liberals have been saying this stuff for at least 300 years (viz. the reference to Hume). Of course, it’s always worth repeating and explaining the message, PCT isn’t that well known about outside academic circles and even where it is known it is simply ignored, much like most other theories of limited government. What we’ve failed to do is implement the findings. I’m not wholly sure why – is it a failure of message/PR? Or are the vested interests simply too powerful and is democracy simply incompatible with capitalism (I don’t mean are we doomed to socialism, but we seem doomed to social democracy!)? Whatever the cause, I still don’t feel that PCT by itself is a sufficient theory – it doesn’t tell us what to limit government to, much less how to limit it.

  4. Posted 21/01/2013 at 17:14 | Permalink

    Oh no Anonymous, not that old canard! It’s so easily refutable – ‘oppression of the strong by the weak’ is only ultimately possible via the exertion of monopoly power, and monopoly power is only feasible via the agency of the law (ie the state) supported by the threat of forcible expropriation of property. Granted, there is a dispute between Classical Liberals and Anarcho-Capitalists as to whether the state should be the upholder of property rights, but either way, it is only through the violation of property rights that such oppression can occur. All other interactions are necessarily voluntary and therefore oppression simply does not exist. What PCT (and its treatment by etatists) tells us that, in fact, the reverse is true – the major failing of etatism is its willful blindness to all the sources of governmental power that the strong (those with access to state power) can and indeed do use to oppress the weak (those without).

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