The Lesson of Rod Blagojevich: We Need Better Government!

Two of my favorite political economists, Mike Munger and Steve Horwitz, each suggest that the Blago markets-in-senate seats scandal vindicates the public choice paradigm. I’m actually rather confused by their posts, and suspect they’re both guilty of the “libertarian vice” in this particular case. I think Ed Lopez is the voice of reason here.

I increasingly think standard liberals are right. It’s not clear why we should expect people to trust libertarians about our policy proposals when we sometimes seem to deny the possibility that any policy can be effectively administered by government. Look at Blago! He’s a politician! They’re all alike. Neener! Except, they aren’t. And some places are better governed than others, with less incompetence, waste, and corruption. Iowa is better governed than the District of Columbia. And the District of Columbia seemed better governed when I left than it was when I arrived. Most of the U.S. is fairly well-governed. That’s good! The local, state, and national government generally succeeds in protecting many/most of our basic rights. Government works best when it is much more limited than it is now, and when it is so limited, it works better than all the alternatives. What we want is: government that works better. That’s what I want, anyway.

But if government just doesn’t work, limited government just doesn’t work either. So either go ahead and come out as an anarchist or swallow your iconoclastic loathing of “good government” pap and admit that you want better government. I want better government!

Generally, we’re more likely to get relatively good government in a cultural climate that encourages good government. Ridiculing as naive norms of anti-corruption and civic responsibility doesn’t undermine belief in the efficacy of government so much as expose the one who ridicules as a defector in a crucial cooperative game, undermining his reputation as a sincere advocate of the public interest. It is valuable and necessary to point out that certain institutional arrangements are unstable and invite corruption, and should therefore be reformed. But people are more likely to listen to you if they believe you believe reform is possible.