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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Public Choice: It Ain't New

I shouldn't be surprised to see even people with PhDs saying things like, "As Public Choice Theory has shown, government actors are self-interested." (I shouldn't be surprised because I know the state of our historical education, even for professional social scientists, is abysmal. I once mentioned "Alexander the Great" to a quite prominent economist with tenure at a fairly major university, and he looked at me blankly and said, "Who is that?") The recognition of this problem did not suddenly emerge in human consciousness in 1962. What do the people who say things like the above think Plato was doing, in The Republic, by requiring that the guardians hold all women, children, and property in common? Well, he was trying to align their self-interest perfectly with the community's welfare. Now, you may think his solution is awful or woefully inadequate, but it is clear that he recognized the same problem focused on by the Public Choice School perfectly well, and made a suggestion for how to solve it.

2 comments:

  1. Is this the same as those situations when Bryan Caplan criticises likeminded folk by saying, "Hayek said the sky is blue"?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yes, I think so, Prateek.

    ReplyDelete