Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Iron Law

Over at The Austrian Economists, Pete Boettke offers a provocative post on the state of political discourse in the U.S. in 2008. He concludes this way:

Pivotal times require pivotal people. Think of the
economists in the 1970s that could articulate the case for limited government:
Friedman and Hayek lead the list, but also Buchanan and Stigler, Becker and
Coase, Alchian and Demsetz, Meltzer and Brunner, etc. Who would be
on your list today that has achieved the same scientific status as these men,
but also are articulate spokesmen for their position on limited
government? If only Paul Krugman, Jeffrey Sachs and Joe Stiglitz can claim
to be both scientifically respected, and capable of being public intellectuals
on policy relevant subjects, then the policy making game is over before it has
started isn't it?

I just finished Thomas Sowell's Economic Facts and Fallacies and found it thoroughly enjoyable. Sowell has written quite a lot on this theme and he has been consistently clear and persuasive. He and several others excel at making the case that Friedman, et al. made in the 1970s. In fact, it was probably a harder sell then than now.

So what's the problem? In this morning's WSJ, Stephen Moore interviews Phil Gramm, who reminds us that, "They didn't live up to what they promised to do. Power corrupted them. They spent lots of money and tried to buy votes. Republicans concluded that they could make voters love them by governing the way Democrats did."

All of the hard work of the thinkers that Boettke cites did nudge the center of American politics in the direction of liberty (and prosperity). But it was all lost because of the Iron Law that power does corrupt. Two-term presidencies ought to go the way of four-term presidencies. It would be a small step in light of the Iron Law.