A Quote For Our Times

Lincoln would now see government not of, by, and for all the people but of, by, and for some kinds of people. He would see it not as of all the people but as of the political activists. He would see government not as by the people but as managed by the politicians and their officials. And he would see government not as for the ordinary people but as for the organized in well-run, well-financed, and influential business organizations, professional associations, and trade unions. It is government “of the Busy (political activists), by the Bossy (government managers), for the Bully (lobbying activists).”


This quote is from the 2002 bookGovernment Failure: A Primer in Public Choice(Cato, 2002), by Gordon Tullock, Arthur Seldon, and Gordon L. Brady. The book is intended as an introduction to late 20th and early 21st Century developments in the study of the government that rules our lives. It attempts to use the tools of economics to evaluate whether the collective choices of voters in electing representatives will satisfy the widely differing choices the people would like to make for themselves as individuals.

F.A. Hayek counseled that a kind of self-correcting order that develops over time in the expression of free markets would best satisfy the disparate choices of individuals. The “constrained vision” described by Thomas Sowell in his book A Conflict of Visions holds that the social order achieved by the choices of millions of individuals made daily in matters of their own interest will lead to the greatest possible satisfaction of the divergent wants and needs of individuals in a society.

In others words, in a top-down controlled society a few people get everything they want. A lot of people will get a little of what they want, and have a whole lot of things they don’t want forced upon them. In a free-market based society very few people get everything they might want, human desires being unlimited, but most people have the opportunity to get most of what they want most of the time. A few things are forced upon people but not so much as to make their lives unbearable, and there are mechanisms to address grievances.

Government Failure, as its title suggests, is a highly readable treatise on how the present functioning of government in the United States and Great Britain satisfies the choices of the political class very well while providing a poor return on investment to those who support them with their tax dollars, their votes, and their trust.

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