公共選擇理論 ~ Public Choice Theory
Public Choice Theory
Writer: James Smyth
Editor: Ji Shou-hui
Public choice theory is the use of economic principles to analyze the actions of politicians. The basic principle of economics is that people are rational and self-interested. No matter what reasoning drives government policies, for instance, almost all of these policies also consolidate the authority of government itself. Since most political scientists and economists assume that politicians work for the public interest, not their own self-interest, these scholars cannot accurately predict the government’s behavior, and furthermore, they overestimate the state’s ability to solve social problems.
How could the government have a conflict of interest with the public good? We need only look to my own country, the United States of America. Because we guarantee freedoms of speech and the press, people can openly discuss and criticize the actions of the government. Furthermore, since representatives are elected by the people, they shouldn’t have the margin to abuse their authority. But they do. Countless officials use their positions to make money and preserve power. They push for policies that benefit their fiscal and electoral supporters. These donors include businesses and labor unions who participate in politics because policy has a huge influence on them. After retirement, many politicians go to work for their former donors as lobbyists representing the companies’ interests. Officials have a gentleman’s agreement to tolerate bribery because everyone benefits from the system.
Why don’t the citizens protest this state of affairs? One factor is that the scale of government grows year after year, such that even the legislators themselves don’t have time to rigorously analyze their own laws. The media don’t have the resources to oversee the government, either; newspaper readers only have so much time in their day, after all. Hence officials feel less and less responsibility. Another problem is that even if a citizen knows that a certain government policy hurts him, he often decides protesting it is not worth his time because he still has his own job, family, and personal interests to take care of. Given that there are many people in the country, each suffers only a little from each unfair law even if the damages to the citizenry are large as a whole. For example, if the state raises the price of milk 10 cents, the margin is small, but the volume is so large that dairy companies will reap huge benefits from the law without raising the hackles of the American people. People only protest when they can’t make a living any longer. Because the American economic recession doesn’t compare to the depth of Middle Eastern poverty, the current difference in scale between protests in these two regions is ginormous.
From an economic perspective, politicians, businesses, and citizens are all acting rationally, but the resulting circumstance is hurting the country. This is why public choice theorists are urging citizens to better scrutinize the state.