Thursday, November 11, 2010

Power and Control

Politics is all about power and control...which is why we need checks and balances.

Frank Herbert -  "He who controls the spice, controls the universe!" - Dune

Pragmatarianism would transfer some control of taxes from congress to taxpayers.  The amount of control transfered would be determined by taxpayers themselves and would reflect their confidence in congress.  This check on the power of congress would have been supported by Herbert Spencer.

Herbert Spencer 
     When that "divinity" which "doth hedge a king," and which in our day has left a glamour around the body inheriting his power, has quite died away - when it begins to be seen clearly that, in a popularly-governed nation, the government is simply a committee of management; it will also be seen that this committee of management has no intrinsic authority. The inevitable conclusion will be that its authority is given by those appointing it; and has just such bounds as they choose to impose. Along with this will go the further conclusion that the laws it passes are not in themselves sacred; but that whatever sacredness they have, is entirely due to the ethical sanction - an ethical sanction which, as we find, is derivable from the laws of human life as carried on under social conditions. And there will come the corollary that when they have not this ethical sanction they have no sacredness, and may be rightly challenged.
     The function of Liberalism in the past was that of putting a limit to the powers of kings. The function of true Liberalism in the future will be that of putting a limit to the powers of Parliaments - Contemporary review, Volume 46
For a few weeks now a Marxist concept that I learned while studying International Development at UCLA has been on my mind but the word wasn't even on the tip of my tongue.  Surprisingly, I just remembered it..."comprador bourgeoisie".  Basically, they were well-connected, upper class, middlemen in developing countries.  A multinational corporation (MNC) would go into a developing country and deal with the local comprador bourgeoisie...who would help "facilitate" the MNC's exploitation of local resources.  The MNCs and the comprador bourgeoisie would get rich and very little, if any, money would trickle down to the proletariat.

Is it a bit much to think of congress as comprador bourgeoisie?  Perhaps...but, in a pragmatarian system, that would be up to each taxpayer to decide.  I kind of just wanted to write it down in case I forgot it again.

Another term that I struggled to remember was "moral hazard".  I'll just be lazy and grab this one from Wikipedia...
Moral hazard also arises in a principal-agent problem, where one party, called an agent, acts on behalf of another party, called the principal. The agent usually has more information about his or her actions or intentions than the principal does, because the principal usually cannot completely monitor the agent. The agent may have an incentive to act inappropriately (from the viewpoint of the principal) if the interests of the agent and the principal are not aligned.
It's straightforward to see that the interests of congress (the agent) and taxpayers (the principle) are not completely aligned.  The primary goal of politicians is to be (re)elected so their interests are strongly aligned with whoever will finance their campaign.

Guido Calabresi 
In a market regime, some are made richer and some made poorer; in a command structure, some have greater authority and some less. It is equally clear that, in an all-market regime, wealth constitutes authority, and that, in an all-command structure, authority results in wealth. Also true, but perhaps less plain, is the fact that in mixed systems like ours people will use their distributional advantage in one medium to overcome their distributional disadvantage in the other by 'altering' or 'corrupting' that other medium. The use of money to influence or 'corrupt' those in authority is easy enough to understand, whether through bribes or campaign contributions.- The Origins of Law and Economics: Essays by the Founding Fathers
This is also know as rent-seeking behavior...when special interest groups and big business attempt to influence congress.

Some decades before Herbert Spencer was worrying about how the power of parliament would be limited...Alexis de Tocqueville was worrying about tyranny of the majority.  

Alexis de Tocqueville
Again, it may be objected that the poor are never invested with the sole power of making the laws; but I reply, that wherever universal suffrage has been established the majority of the community unquestionably exercises the legislative authority; and if it be proved that the poor always constitute the majority, it may be added, with perfect truth, that in the countries in which they possess the elective franchise they possess the sole power of making laws. But it is certain that in all the nations of the world the greater number has always consisted of those persons who hold no property, or of those whose property is insufficient to exempt them from the necessity of working in order to procure an easy subsistence. Universal suffrage does therefore, in point of fact, invest the poor with the government of society. - Democracy in America
As I pointed out in my entry on taxpayers, taxpayers are better educated than the general public.  Therefore, pragmatarianism would help function as a check against any possible tyranny of the majority.

To review, pragmatarianism would...
  1. help check the power of congress
  2. help check tyranny of the majority
  3. result in an optimal division of labor between the private and public sector
  4. ensure that public goods would be produced with maximum efficiency
  5. ensure levels of all public goods would accurately reflect society's values
  6. provide greater freedom
  7. allow taxpayers to joyfully contribute to public goods 

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