At RealClearPolicy, James v. Delong writes about one of the dangers of letting government get too big: it becomes even more difficult to moderate the natural tendency of factions to use the democratic process to vote themselves public goodies.
Capture by faction has become endemic. As government has grown and budgets and regulatory empires have expanded, economic and ideological factions have carved off satrapies in the agencies and congressional subcommittees.  The true greens control EPA. Unions have Labor and the NLRB.  The banks have the Fed and Treasury.  The energy companies used to have the Department of Energy, but now it is in the hands of the green crony capitalists.  Farm policy is controlled by a coalition of agricultural interests and food-stamp advocates.  HUD serves housing industry and urban constituencies.  HHS and its state satellites are a tool of the health-care industry -- my state senator in Montana deals with 63 health-care lobbyists, all of them focused on one thing: more money from the state.  Academia, teachers' unions, and the consulting industry control the Department of Education. Public employees have become a powerful interest group in themselves.  And so on. 
Conservatives keep arguing about Obama's political philosophy, but they miss the point.  His strength is that he has none.  He has no views on environmental or labor or health or education policy; whatever the interests that have been given that part of the government want is all right with him.  His job is to assure each member of his coalition that it will indeed be given freedom of action, to mediate the occasional conflicts, and to serve as a mouthpiece when interest-group talking points are put on his teleprompter.
               *       *       *
The rise of this special-interest state was not totally without a justifying political theory.  It was accompanied by a school of analysis called "interest-group liberalism," which posited that the various interest groups elbowing each other on the way to the trough would produce in the political system the self-regulating efficiencies that free-market competition produces in the economic sphere.  This was always just a metaphor, not a real analysis, and it does not stand up as a serious philosophy.
It's that last part that most interests me. Competition in the form of a race for the spoils doesn't work.   Competition can work to increase overall prosperity if it rewards productive behavior, but scrambling for political favors doesn't reward productive behavior.  It's more like announcing a police holiday and encouraging everyone to loot.  The kind of competition we need is the kind that spurs people to offer something more valuable so that other free people will willingly enter into a trade with them, even though they have alternatives.  In theory, you might use a democratic voting process to mediate those sorts of trades, but in practice it's far too clumsy.  It can't use price signals as effectively as the fine-grained system that leaves ever producer and consumer free to bargain with equals.  The spoils that each interest faction scramble for don't belong to the people who award them, so the price signals are all broken and the supply and demand can't be brought into balance.


Grim said...

That's an interesting thought. Many times the government is effectively a compulsory monopoly where it operates, too, which means that price signals won't operate as they would in a market anyway.

I was thinking about you yesterday, Tex. The homily was on the parable of the rich fool. I was expecting an anti-capitalist lecture since we were on the subject of greed, but in fact it went the other way. He talked about Carnegie and his building of libraries across the country, and Bill Gates' charitable work. The point was that all that prosperity was not for the individual's benefit, but would eventually be inherited by others. So rather than just building bigger barns to hold his wealth, the wise rich man (as opposed to the foolish one) could give some thought to the good he could do in the world -- translating, as it were, the material benefits into spiritual ones, while ensuring that the poor were taken care of in a good way.

It went along nicely with several of your regular arguments about the benefits of markets, and why capitalism isn't always incompatible with the moral good but can sometimes reinforce it.

Ymar Sakar said...

When there's too much factionalism, civil war becomes the natural and inevitable outlet to resolve things.

Public works are mostly propaganda to prevent the people from lynching the guys with the money. Although governments have less need for this, given their monopoly on force.

Cass said...

I like this. Have been too busy at work to think of anything intelligent to say in the comments or write about it, but wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed the post, Tex.

Work has not been sanity inducing this week.

Cass said...

The homily was on the parable of the rich fool.

Yikes! So was our sermon. We just started going to a new church after many years not going to any church.

We've tried several times, but didn't feel comfortable at any of the churches we visited.

I was worried the good Father was headed into Occupy Land, but he surprised us by going in another direction. The Spousal Unit and I were discussing it during a long walk later in the day - the tension between having a prudent interest in providing a secure future for your family (the Lord helps those who help themselves) and the gospel admonition to take no thought for what you'll eat/wear/etc.

I thought he resolved it nicely.

Grim said...

Yikes! So was our sermon.

If it was a Catholic church, they all use the same Biblical readings -- worldwide, in all languages -- every day of every year. It's therefore no surprise they might have been the same. :)

Grim said...

I suppose I ought to mention that I officially converted to Catholicism this year, at the Easter Mass, with Dad29 standing sponsor for me. I was brought by Tolkien and Aquinas. It was long past time.

Cass said...

No, not Catholic. Episcopal.

Congratulations on the conversion. I hope it brings you joy and peace.

Grim said...

Thank you.

It looks like the readings that the Episcopal church uses are often substantially the same as the Catholic readings. I didn't know that, but it makes some sense.

Per this, we should expect to usually hear the same things at church!

The Revised Common Lectionary is a three-year cycle of weekly lections used to varying degrees by the vast majority of mainline Protestant churches in Canada and the United States....

The Revised Common Lectionary, first published in 1992, derives from The Common Lectionary of 1983, both based on the Ordo Lectionem Missae of 1969, a post-Vatican II ground-breaking revision of the Roman Lectionary. "The post-Vatican II Roman Lectionary represented a profound break with the past. Not only were the readings organized according to a plan whereby a richer fare of scripture was read in liturgical celebrations, in contrast to the medieval lectionary where the choice of readings was simply helter-skelter, but for the first time in history the Sunday lectionary covered a period of three years, each year being dedicated to a particular synoptic author--Matthew, Mark, or Luke. A fourth year was not dedicated to the gospel of John because readings from this gospel permeate the sacred seasons, especially the latter part of Lent and most of Easter."