Sunday, April 30, 2017

QOTD: Politics Is Process

I really like the opening paragraph to Buchanan's The Limits of Liberty :
Those who seek specific descriptions of the "good society" will not find them here. A listing of my own private preferences would be both unproductive and uninteresting. I claim no rights to impose these preferences on others, even within the limits of persuasion. In these introductory sentences, I have by implication expressed my disagreement with those who retain a Platonic faith that there is "truth" in politics, remaining only to be discovered and, once discovered, capable of being explained to reasonable men. We live together because social organization provides the efficient means of achieving our individual objectives and not because society offers us a means of arriving at some transcendental common bliss. Politics is a process of compromising our differences, and we differ as to the desired collective objectives just as we do over baskets of ordinary consumption goods. In a truth-judgment conception of politics, there might be some merit in an attempt to lay down precepts for a good society. Some professional search for quasi-objective standards might be legitimate. In sharp contrast, when we view politics as process, as means through which group differences are reconciled, any attempt to lay down standards becomes effort largely wasted at best and pernicious at worst, even for the man who qualifies himself as expert.
Certainly seeing politics as a process of reconciling group differences seems better than seeing politics as a search for truth. As a young economist I saw myself as an expert who could guide government and public policy toward the standard of an efficient allocation of resources by correcting the "market failures" I and my colleagues had discovered. Today these earlier efforts do seem to me largely wasted and pernicious, and as work in my classrooms that was best, not at correcting market failure, but at inculcating a spirit of controlling others through the force of government to a particular version of the "good society," i.e., the "efficient allocative society."

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