Federal Triangle: Public Choice
Concepts of public choice are based on economic analysis of government behavior and of individual citizens with respect to government. It is evident that public choices are guided by different methods than in the private sector where individuals make decisions primarily affecting themselves and self-interest. In the public sphere political decisions are made that affect others, but public decision-makers are guided by the same personal reasons and interest as the businessman. This has become all too obvious from examining federal actions and failures relating to intelligence gathering, analysis and results, leading to avoidance of responsibility by senior government officials before and after terrorist attacks in the U.S. and result in lack from any accountability for dereliction. I view public choice economic analyses as a direct analog to the government paralysis and failures during this time of national need.
Public choice was articulated by James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock about 40 years ago and is the focus of a new book titled "Government Failure" by Gordon Tullock, Arthur Seldon and Gordon Brady. Terrorism is not mentioned anywhere in this primer, but the parallels are crystal clear to any thoughtful reader. The authors make distinctions between the roles and power of bureaucrats who are actually more powerful than elected politicians. Economists base many predictions on the idea that individuals in the marketplace make decisions on an informed basis, while in politics, voter education and misinformation problems are more severe. Voters are badly informed, quite often favoring policies against their own interests. Most politicians, knowing this, attempt to design policies to attract ill-informed voters. In doing so the politician obscures intent while maintaining power in elected office, which is how every politician earns a living. There are even terms in the vernacular such as "log-rolling" (vote trading even when against in principle-pork in your and my district) and "rent seeking" (resource used to pay people with proceeds from activities that have negative social value-subsidizing tobacco farmers) that describe daily work of politicians. It is no wonder politicians are loathed by most of the population.
Bureaucrats are human too, more interested in personal well being than in public service. They perform tasks and make decisions that have little effect on them and so have weak motivation to consider problems carefully. Because bureaucrats vote, there is little way for politicians to discipline them and because of their strong employment rules, most every bureaucrat can outlast any politician. So there is a difference between the private sector rule of "maximize profits" and bureaucrats in the public sector who claims to "maximize the public interest." Our system of government maintains a disparity because the government bureaucrat never "pays" for actions, always spending other people's resources. When called to task for any perceived failure, as example inefficient spending of resources, a government employee will offer or threaten to cut the popular and highly visible as a proposed remedy. Politicians are aware of this deception by bureaucrats but "keep peace with inferiors" to assure a stable but uneasy relationship.
Experience shows us that nearly without exception, political power does not transform the wielder into a saint, be they elected politicians or government bureaucrats. The same is true in private industry. Selfish interests have driven leaders of WorldCom, ENRON and Arthur Anderson to commit fraud that is well beyond the grief of routine public choice issues. There is no exception in government with the debacle surrounding the terrorist threats and actions. Public and private accountability is something that Americans want and need. Exceeding the boundaries of self-interest into the realm of fraud or cowardly neglect cannot be tolerated. Those who failed so miserably with public or private choices command dismissal or prison.