Everybody Benefits From Something

Tim Carney’s piece on Rick Perry as cowboy corporatist attacking him as a crony capitalist makes a number of good points, but I did want to raise a question about the general method often used in these kind of articles.

The basic shape of things is that if you’re the president of the United States or the governor of a large state, you need to make a lot of decisions. No matter what decision you make, your decision will benefit some stakeholders. It’s actually especially true that your decision will benefit some stakeholders if you’re making good decisions because positive-sum decisions have many beneficiaries. Then, given the way the American political system operates, these stakeholders who benefit from your decisions will want to donate money to your campaign and otherwise back your political career. This can then be read backwards as you engaging in a series of corrupt giveaways to your campaign supporters. And who knows, maybe it was? But it’s difficult to tell the difference. I think Carney’s particular conceit is that the correct response to this is to simply refuse to analyze policy decisions on the merits and instead adopt a posture of highly ideological libertarianism. But I actually think the same issue recurs here. The overwhelmingly dominant vision of libertarianism in the contemporary United States involves the strange view that the owners of industrial enterprises should have an untrammeled right to engage in massive air pollution, notwithstanding the infringement of the property rights of others this involves. Not coincidentally, this vision of libertarianism is heavily financed by polluters who financially benefit from constructing the concept of “free markets” to mean “minimal government regulation” rather than “minimal right to spew crap into the commonly owned air.”