“Public” choice

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Henry Farrell's savage takedown of the blindness, ideology, and biases of Public Choice Theory.

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Where public choice people seem to perceive a “public” that collectively wants to return to work, I see something different – a set of asymmetric power relations that public choice scholars are systematically blind to in the ways that Chris, Alex Gourevitch and Corey identified eight years ago, when they wrote about “bleeding heart libertarians” (a constituency that strongly overlaps with public choice).
Henry Farrell, "“Public” choice“Public” choice"
Rather than starting from the many definitions of public choice offered by its enemies, I’ll begin with the definition provided by one of its major proponents. As described by the late Charles Rowley, longtime editor of the journal Public Choice, the public choice approach is a ““program of scientific endeavor that exposed government failure coupled to a programme of moral philosophy that supported constitutional reform designed to limit government.” In other words, it is not a neutral research program, but one that has a clear political philosophy and set of aims. Bluntly put, it starts from governments bad, markets good, and further assumes that the intersection between governments and markets (where private interests are able to “capture” government) is very bad indeed.
Henry Farrell, "“Public” choice“Public” choice"
In particular, public choice notoriously tends to define questions of private power out of existence, treating them as freely entered contracts that hence reflect the interests of the contractees. This is why Mancur Olson accused his public choice colleagues of “monodiabolism” and an “almost utopian lack of concern about other problems” than the unrestrained state. Public choice economists tend to wave away private power as being irrelevant to the understanding of outcomes, except when it acquires the additional force of state coercion.
Henry Farrell, "“Public” choice“Public” choice"
There is an interesting affinity between public choice and Marxism, another analytic approach with an associated political program. Both agree on the awful things that can happen when government and business interests are in cahoots, even if each sees a different party as the serpent in its paradise.
Henry Farrell, "“Public” choice“Public” choice"