Column on Daschle–it’s Simply Shocking, you think?

Daschle–it’s Simply Shocking, you think?

Tibor R. Machan

Only those with a completely blind faith in governments would be shocked
at the revelations that former Senate leader Tom Daschle, as well as some
other nominees of President (change Washington) Obama, cannot manage to
remain lawful even as they present themselves as public servants par
excellence. These are only one whose dubious conduct has been exposed.
There are hundreds and hundreds who manage to do their indiscretions under
cover of public service.

Why is anyone shocked? Over twenty years ago Professor Jim Buchanan
received the Noble Prize in economic science for the work he and his
friend Gordon Tullock did in the sub-discipline of public choice theory.
The gist of this theory, as I understand it, is that government officials
in our redistributive state simply cannot avoid serving their own agenda
rather than the mythical public interest. There are two reasons for this,
I think. One is that whenever people work, they tend to work for their own
goals, first and foremost. Now this can sometimes be reconciled with a
sincere professionalism, as when a medical doctor takes the oath to serve
the interest of patients because doing so will also advance his or her
interest. But in government that make impossible promises all over the
place there is no way to actually serve the public interest since
virtually all interests are private or special ones–that of artist,
educators, farmers, veterans and so on. Serving the interest of these
folks isn’t serving the public interest but is often mislabeled so. And
one must do one’s service selectively. Among all the people who voted for
someone and live in a politician’s district, only some can be served and
guess who those will be? Usually the ones who gave the greatest backing to
the politicians who went to some capital, national or state, to do
service. Thus to serve the public is hardly likely–the public, in fact,
has but few common interests to be served anyway, even if by some miracle
a politician really tried.

One reason a case such as Tom Daschle’s is so routine, why the percentage
of those who are party to such illegal behavior is high, is that in
reality nearly everything politicians do in office is to help out private
or special parties, never really the public at large as they claim or
promise they do. and when these private or special parties want to repay
the favor, for most it is contributions to some fund that helps reelect or
otherwise support the politician. This is not actually, only nominally,
different from provide the politician with various perks. So when they
receive these perks in unconventional ways, instead as contributions to a
fund, for example, they can hardly see the difference. Why then pay taxes
on such benefits? One need not do so when one receive political

The entire welfare state is a theater of what economist call rent
seeking, getting something legally at the expense of others. Sure, there
is some effort to make it fair or at least provide a cover of fairness to
it all but that’s all a sham. It is like hypocrisy, the compliment vice
pays to virtue.

What is gratifying to me about all of this is that President Obama turns
out to be just as vulnerable to the corrupt ways of Washington as all
those his campaign rhetoric was aimed at, all those naughty lobbyists he
was going to expel from the changed nation’s capitol. He should have
studied public choice and I am actually surprised that as someone who
taught law at the University of Chicago, where so much of public choice
theory is discussed both by economic and law professors, he wasn’t
properly educated in the field.

A great advantage of limited government is that it would restrict the
scope of governmental operations and thus minimize the opportunity for
corrupt politics. As my favorite analogy–namely refereeing competitive
games–to such a government shows, if you keep the job of the
professionals limited to something they can in fact do, they will not very
likely go astray. Otherwise all bets are off.

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