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Beyond Politics: Markets, Welfare, And The Failure Of Bureaucracy (Independent Studies in Political Economy) First Edition Edition
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Simply put, transferring an issue from the market to government does not eliminate self-interested behavior. Those who have the most at stake will make the necessary effort to have the most influence. Government policies frequently confer large benefits on a small number of people, while spreading the costs among many. Those many, therefore, each have too little at stake to make large investments in influence. The result is rent-seeking - the economists' term for using government to create markets that are distorted in favor of producers.
The other crucial problem with government policymaking is that decision-makers do not have to compare costs and benefits and make economically wise decisions. In fact bureaucrats have a strong incentive to overstate the magnitude of problems and to avoid seeking real solutions, because doing so allows them to continue to request funding - thus creating job security.
My view is, of course, somewhat biased, because I am Bill Mitchell's student. But knowing him personally, I also know that his intent is not to demonize government employees (who are all acting rationally in response to the distorted incentives they face). Nor is he a right-winger intent on helping businesses oppress consumers and destroy the environment. In fact the best parts of the book, in my opinion, are the chapters showing how the incentive structure in government results in policies that actually hurt consumers and the environment.Read more ›
I don't think he makes his points as clearly or convincingly as he does in person. I'd also say there are some organizational problems - key ideas and concepts that come up in multiple places and could be better treated with one devoted section.
The topic of public choice is incredibly important. It is a shame that so many economists - and people in general - don't have even an elementary grasp of public choice. For that reason I'd say that this book is worth a read. In my opinion, though, this isn't an accurate representation of Simmons strengths.
Like many (or most) economists, they assume that behavior in markets its ethically better than behavior in politics. On the one hand, that's a useful corrective for those people who think that politics consists of the noble pursuit of the public interest. On the other hand, this sort of economist unrealistically idealizes the market.
For example, Chapters 5-10 all have the same title - "Political Pursuit of Private Gain" - with different subtitles. Mitchell and Simmons act as if pursuing private goals through the political system is odd or reprehensible. Yet they would applaud people who pursue private goals through the market. It's not at all clear to me that there is an ethical distinction to be made here. Shouldn't the problem of the public and private good in both economics and politics be the real subject of political economy?
As another example, they count as "perverted incentives" the fact that politicians aks "how many people" want something, not "how badly do they want something" (which is what the market does). Is it so obvious that one of these two standards is better than the other?
I'll conclude with a final example. Mitchell and Simmons assume uncritically that defense, law and order are truly public goods.Read more ›