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« My Undergraduate Austrian Economics Syllabus | Main | Study the History of Political Economy Young Aspiring Economists »

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(Woohoo! Suffolk!)

Awesome Mencken quote! It captures a big part of my objection to the Throw-The-Bums-Out Theory of Governance.

"How do you react to these precursors of behavioral public choice and institutional political economy?"

1. Term limits. A maximum of 12 years in office for any elected official.
2. Offspring of any elected or hired federal official must serve in the Armed Forces.
3. Require that any meeting between a petitioner and a government official (under the First Amendment clause, the right to petition) be videotaped and made public immediately.

Carlyle once wrote (perhaps more than once) that one can judge the health of a society by the type of men it promotes to positions entailing the power of government.

Hayek was an excellent theorist and economist, and the Road to Serfdom a pithy and timely warning against a real danger. However, human beings are not slaves to economic laws; we have free will. Of course all things, civilizations included, eventually decay and die. However it is possible through human action to preserve good order and put off the inevitable darkness of entropy. If power corrupts, this is because society has supplied corrupt individuals who seek power, or individuals have attained power who are then corrupted. Neither of these is a necessary conclusion because every human being is free to choose his own moral path.

The way to fix "government" is not to enact term limits or regulate who is eligible for government office or enforce written constitutions or anything of the sort. All these top-down regulatory limits are certain to fail in the ultimate endeavor. The way to fix "government" is to be a moral and ethical people. Then it doesn't matter if you elect representatives or designate a hereditary monarchy or embrace self-rulership: you will have just, moral, ethical government because you are a just, moral, ethical people. It is not the American Government which is venal and corrupt, it is the American People. When we ourselves fix ourselves, all else will follow.


From Latter Day Pamphlets, "The New Downing Street", 1850, T. Carlyle:
"To promote men of talent, to search and sift the whole society in every class for men of talent, and joyfully promote them, has not always been found impossible. In many forms of polity they have done it, and still do it, to a certain degree. The degree to which they succeed in doing it marks, as I have said, with very great accuracy the degree of divine and human worth that is in them, the degree of success or real ultimate victory they can expect to have in this world."

That was quite lovely. Now, over here in the real world, where real people exist, what are we to do? What kind of system will make even the worst have to behave themselves? Since in the real world the power-hungry are going to be attracted to power -- and humans being social primates, we continue to be interested in maintaining our power hierarchies -- we need a system that shackles such people to keep them from harming the rest of us.

Carlyle's "if only the right people were in charge" argument has proven time and time again to never work.

I htink serving in congress or the senate should be handled just like jury duty. Every citizen can be called to do it for up to a month, and rotated out

Ralph,

I've considered that as a way of going about it too. That's similar to the way the ancient Athenians did it.

Chevalierdewhatever:

(May I call you Jim?)

Perhaps you are just goading us. If not, you might wanna reconsider the authority of Mr. Carlyle, originator of the barb that economics is a "dismal science." Economics is dismal, Carlyle thought, because economists do not recognize the qualitative difference between the races. Economists are base enough to imagine that the Negro may be induced to labor by wages just like a white man, whereas the Negro is really in need of the "beneficent whip." Really. You can read about it here:
http://www.econlib.org/library/Columns/LevyPeartdismal.html

Even apart from Carlyle's outrages on racial issues, I would reject his appeal to things lofty. IMHO lofty is bad, banal is good. The division of labor is banal and not heroic. It is mundane and bourgeois. That's good IMHO. As Adam Smith taught us, society is based not on heroism or any other lofty thing, but on trade, trade, trade. Attempts to elevate the hero or the saintly or the otherwise lofty are attempts to discriminate between the better people and the worse people. I don't want "elevated" persons lording it over the rest of us. In truth, we are all cut from the same cloth. Down with hierarchy; up with equality. I stand by Adam Smith and the doctrine that all men are created equal. I reject what is lofty and hold fast to human equality and to the hum-drum work-a-day world of commerce.

Having a society of honourable people can't hurt. Carlyle is at least right there. We should always encourage people to behave honourably and do that ourselves.

But, morality is not absolute people can have different opinions they truly believe in. Just because a person may believe honestly that something is moral doesn't mean that by acting according to his morality he helps humanity or is moral in some cosmic sense.

Social mores can't control all of society. And each of us can't look into the hearts of other people and see if they are acting out of good intentions. The wily con-man can't be distinguished from the serious social benefactor by any simple method. In fact, as broader society becomes more honourable that becomes harder because people don't have the experience of dealing with dishonest people that's needed to recognise them.

I agree that more encouragement towards good behaviour could help modern societies. But, it's not a complete answer, much more is needed.

Constitutions are a mixture of "top-down" and "bottom-up" rules. What they provide is a criteria by which reasonably educated people can judge if their rulers are behaving themselves. They are an idea quite in spirit with the 19th century ethos which Mr.Johnstone is promoting, in some ways they're like gentlemanly codes of behaviour.

What is better than having a system that requires people be angels in order for it to work is to have a system that works despite the wide variety of actual people in it. And then if you want to engage in a project of making people better, that would be a completely separate project (that, depending on your definition of virtue, I would likely support).

Social mores can't control all of society. And each of us can't look into the hearts of other people and see if they are acting out of good intentions. The wily con-man can't be distinguished from the serious social benefactor by any simple method. In fact, as broader society becomes more honourable that becomes harder because people don't have the experience of dealing with dishonest people that's needed to recognise them.

I agree that more encouragement towards good behaviour could help modern societies. But, it's not a complete answer, much more is needed.

Constitutions are a mixture of "top-down" and "bottom-up" rules. What they provide is a criteria by which reasonably educated people can judge if their rulers are behaving themselves. They are an idea quite in spirit with the 19th century ethos which Mr.Johnstone is promoting, in some ways they're like gentlemanly codes of behaviour.

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