Today’s Quote of the Day…

…comes from page 198 of the Liberty Fund edition of James Buchanan’s 1975 book The Limits of Liberty: Between Anarchy and Leviathan:

It is unrealistic to assume that elected officials who occupy executive and legislative positions of responsibility have no personal preferences about the overall size of the public sector, its sources of revenue, and, most important, the particular components of public outlays.  A person who is genuinely indifferent in all these respects would not be attracted to politics, either as a profession or an advocation.  Politicians are likely to be those persons who do have personal preferences about such matters and who are attracted to politics precisely because they think that, though politics, they can exercise some influence over collective outcomes.  Once this basic, if simple, point is recognized, it is easy to see that budgetary results will not fully reflect voters’ preferences, even of those who are members of the effective coalition that achieves victory for its own candidate or party.

This simple, if basic, point is one often forgotten in discussions of the political.  Politicians are assumed to either be guided by the Will of the People and The People just need to be educated on an issue, or politicians are guided by experts, and it’s just a matter of getting the right experts to the right ears, or politicians are influenced by dollars and donations, and it’s just a matter of limiting money in politics.  But none of these assumptions ascribe any agency to politicians.  In short, they forget politicians are people too, fashioned from the same clay as the rest of us.

3 thoughts on “Today’s Quote of the Day…

  1. Yep, Jon. We tend to forget politicians are simply people elected to represent others. Maybe we should ban the negative connotation word “politician” and only use “representative” instead?

    Many (most?) elected people will tell you they thought they would get to work on things they wanted to do instead of what they have to do for others to get their support in maybe just one or two things they can actually get done during their term. It’s acceptable to judge yourself striking out less often as a desirable outcome when others expect home runs every at-bat (you’re going to get beat up in every public meeting as an elected representative by people who only want home runs).

    And Happy New Year to a very smart young man who can change the world!

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  2. All people (including politicians) tend to act in their own self-interest. And most of the time they can also contend they are reflecting the will of the people. Very few of the Democrats in the House who voted against tax reduction will not be reelected this fall. Ergo, higher taxes are the will of the people in those districts.

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  3. The point is excellent, but I’m not sure we should agree with the ending:
    “. . . that budgetary results will not fully reflect voters’ preferences . . . ”

    The assumption here is that if God captured everyone’s view it would only then work. That is not only wrong, it defends the notion that central decision making and then the enforcement of those central decisions is the proper use of government.
    DIFFUSED KNOWLEDGE IN THE MARKET PLACE IS OF NO USE TO ANYONE IF THAT KNOWLEDGE CANNOT EXPRESS ITSELF IN INDIVIDUAL ACTION. ONLY INDIVIDUAL ACTION CAN RESPOND TO THE VERY CHANGE IT CAUSES.

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