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Public Choice and Moral Imagination

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"Public Choice and Moral Imagination"

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I wrote the other day about how over time I’ve “come to be increasingly baffled by the high degree cynicism and immorality displayed in big-time politics.”

Some right-of-center bloggers, including Damon Root at Reason and Ilya Somin at the Volokh Conspiracy responded to that post by deciding they should be condescending and give me a little less in Public Choice Economics 101. That, however, misunderstands what I’m trying to say about the subject.

The formal model of the self-interested legislator is very easy to understand. What I’m saying is hard to understand is the actual psychology of this kind of behavior. I think I now have a much better grasp than I once did of what’s going on inside the heads of people who have ideological beliefs I disagree with. But I find it very difficult to extend my powers of moral imagination to the kind of people who hold high political office in the United States. Tyler Cowen deems the relevant psychological dynamic the addiction of fame and power and it’s just an addiction I have a hard time understanding. If some weird situation somehow resulted in me becoming a United States Senator, I would spend six years making trouble, having fun, and trying to do the right thing. Probably I’d lose a primary or something since I wasn’t bothering to raise money or campaign. Then I’d right a book about it.

I think it’d be a blast. And I think that’d also be the totally intuitive way to handle the situation. Obviously that’s also why I never will be a powerful politician. Instead, we’re fated to be ruled by the sort of people who are really desperate to cling to power. But it still strikes me as a very odd mentality.

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