Sunday, October 05, 2014


James Buchanan's famous description of his work "Politics without romance" hit the nail on the head. But most people cannot or will not shed the romance. Here is Martha Nussbaum chatting with Russ Roberts:
Why do I say, 'government represents the people'? Look, you do not need to show that you win to show that government is in some meaningful sense, yours. Of course, if you have a vote, some people will win and some will lose. But having the chance to weigh in on those policies is what I'm talking about. In the era when women couldn't vote, well they might often get what they wanted by wheedling their husbands and getting the husbands to give them what they want. But there's a crucial difference--namely, that they are being dominated. The government is not accountable to them. And in the era where women have the vote, it's different. Women don't always win. No, of course not. But no individual wins all the time. That's what democracy is about. But on the other hand, you are in that process. And it is in that sense, yours. Even the Constitution, which I think does, by the way, command the agreement and assent of a pretty large proportion of Americans at some level of generality, you know, there's an Amendment process. So, you can always work at organized work to amend the Constitution if you don't like it, and see how it goes. You can't expect to win, but you can participate in that process. Now, as far as education goes, I'm back to what I said before. If government wants to experiment with charter schools or with vouchers, fine. Let them experiment with that. But in the end of the day it's a system supported by the people. And the results, we have to look at the results and see what they are. And politicians will be defeated if they don't do well by that.
It's that simple. It's just about the will of the people. "The people" can always amend the Constitution; "the people" will prevail.

I just read Bootleggers and Baptists by Adam Smith and Bruce Yandle. They work to put some flesh on Yandles' original 1983 rendering of the model. They apply it to recent events including Obamacare, Detroit and Wall Street bail-outs, etc.

Everyone knows that politics make strange bedfellows but Yandle's insight was to describe the nature of the bedfellows in the modern U.S. context. The book is remarkably slim (under 200 pages) but it could have been as almost as lengthy as the accumulated Federal Register. But that would be repetitious; the same theme repeats itself daily -- add what goes on in state and local government.

In the "Why Baptists?" chapter, the authors take note of our spiritual side and describe how their model brings that into the analysis of daily politics. The most vocal "Baptists" these days are environmentalists; they provide cover for the many Solyndras.

Smith and Yandle refer to the "Occupation" demonstrations and note that these could have been a Bootleggers and Baptists moment. Prompting relaxed mortgage underwriting standards, politicians were on the side of the housing affordability angels; mortgage originators thrived under the Fannie/Freddie implicit (soon to be explicit) bail-out guarantee.  Then after 2008, Wall Streeters craning for bail-out money were allied with those eager to be seen as "doing something" to "save jobs."  That theme is still alive. In this morning's NY Times, Neil Irwin rehashes why Lehman Bros. could have/should have been bailed out.

But, like Nussbaum, the "occupy" street people had a much easier time with the old chestnuts. In their case, just good old fashioned (and romantic) anti-capitalism.