Beyond Politics: The Roots of Government Failure Paperback – Sep 1 2011
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Throughout the world, publics are looking for a new conception of government and its role. Happily, there is a whole new theory that fills the bill called public choice,’ and which is clearly and persuasively presented in the excellent book, Beyond Politics.” Robert L. Bartley, late editor, Wall Street Journal
Beyond Politics is a solid work in all respects. Truly a praiseworthy book, it is well written and carefully organized, providing a rich contrast between orthodox notions of democracy and the public choice alternative.” Richard E. Wagner, Harris Professor of Economics, George Mason University
Beyond Politics is a valuable analysis, making a cogent case for thoroughly rethinking what government should do. The book deserves wide reading.” John Engler, former Governor of Michigan
Beyond Politics is so well written and interesting that it appeals even to those, like me, who may disagree with several of its arguments.” Mancur Olson, Jr., late professor of economics, University of Maryland
Mitchell and Simmons make a lucid case for a market economy and limited constitutional government. Beyond Politics is the most effective introduction to this topic that is now available.” William A. Niskanen, former chairman, President’s Council of Economic Advisors
Beyond Politics is a comprehensive and up-to-date account of the failures of U.S. governmental policies, with important suggestions for how to correct them. The book is a thorough introduction to what is wrong with America’s political system with remedies for its failure.” Dennis C. Mueller, professor of economics, University of Maryland
We have needed an answer to the question often asked: Can you refer me to a single book that will explain in simple language what Public Choice is all about?’ Beyond Politics by William Mitchell and Randy Simmons meets this need superbly.” James M. Buchanan, Nobel Laureate in Economic Science, Center for the Study of Public Choice, George Mason University
About the Author
Randy T. Simmons is a senior fellow at the Independent Institute, the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics, the director of the Institute of Political Economy at Utah State University, and the former mayor of Providence, Utah. He is also a member of the board of directors of the Utah League of Cities and Towns as well as a member of the Utah Governor's Privatization Commission. He is the author of several books, including The Political Economy of Culture and Norms. He lives in Providence, Utah. Gordon Tullock is a former professor of law and economics at George Mason University and the author of numerous books, including The Calculus of Consent. In 1996 he was elected to the American Political Science Review Hall of Fame.
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Simmons organizes his 16 chapters in five major sections:
1) Market Failures and Political Solutions: Orthodoxy,
2) In Dispraise of Politics: Some Public Choice,
3) Understanding Property, Markets, the Firm, and the Law,
4) Case Studies in the Anatomy of Governmental Failure, and
5) Political Implications of Public Choice.
Each chapter has a section of bibliographic notes. Be sure and read it. You will be rewarded with commentary on those sources Dr. Simmons found most enlightening.
He starts the book with an orthodox description of market failures and government interventions to "fix" problems. Government has vastly expanded in the last century, with "market failure" as a frequent justification. Unfortunately the fix is often more costly and damaging than the original problem. Until the advent of public choice studies there was an unfortunate tendency to compare the real-world of the private markets to an idealized concept of how governments should operate. This was done without seriously looking at how governments really operated.
To understand why this is so, Simmons compares market motivations and the motivations inside a non-market entity. Market motivations are much more likely to produce efficient and favorable results for the majority of our country's citizens. Once you have finished Simmons' case studies of government failure, you will look hard for a private solution to any problem. Counting on a tax supported institution to mitigate a problem is really a desperation last resort that is very likely the most costly way to address the problem.
The case studies alone are well worth the price of the book. Under the general title of "Political Pursuit of Private Gain," Simmons has chapters covering:
9. Producer-Rigged Markets,
10. Consumer Protection,
11. Government Exploitation,
12. Government Schools and Mediocrity,
13. Environmental Goods, and
14. Coercive Redistribution.
In chapter 15 he discusses economic instability which he titles "Micro-Politics of Macro-Instability." He explains carefully why governments have some interest in instability and the overlay of a politically manipulated business cycle. He also provides details about the lack of understanding of what the correct counter-cyclical policy should be. This reviewer thinks permitting the government to attempt counter-cyclical remedies is like giving to a drunk teenager who failed his driving test the keys to your Lamborghini and another bottle of whiskey.
This public choice field of economics has provided strong evidence for the truth of the old quote, "the government that governs least governs best." The study of public choice has shown that severely limiting the scope of government is intensely practical and leads to maximum utility for the most citizens.
I wish I had discovered Beyond Politics: the Roots of Government Failure before I had that conversation. Now that I've read it, I understand that there's no such thing as a disinterested bureaucrat. In this public choice primer, author Randy Simmons, the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics at Utah State University, explains that bureaucrats - along with politicians, lobbyists, and even college professors - possess the same interest in security, status, and material rewards that we all do. It follows that if we want to understand the effects of some government program, we need to subject the people who will implement it to the same rigorous economic analysis that we apply to the private sector.
And apply it he does. After covering the basics of public choice in the early chapters, Simmons presents a series of "Case Studies in the Anatomy of Government Failure." They cover topics as diverse as consumer protection, public schools, environmentalism, and business cycles. The case studies reveal how bureaucrats, no matter how well-intentioned, cannot possibly have the knowledge needed to make good decisions about complex issues; they certainly don't have as much knowledge as the millions of buyers and sellers that interact in the marketplace under the guidance of the price mechanism. Furthermore, Simmons debunks the argument, common in our political discourse, that "the market has failed; we need government to fix it." He shows that, not only does government consistently make things worse, but that most of the time the market wasn't broken in the first place.
Beyond Politics is written to satisfy readers regardless of their level of expertise. Many of the concepts are illustrated with graphs that will appeal to a reader well grounded in economics; the beginning student can skip these and still glean the main points from the text, which is always clear and readable. And while I usually skip over biographical notes unless I'm planning further research, the ones in Beyond Politics are worth reading: Simmons uses them as an opportunity to elaborate on the contributions that other authors have made to the field.
The book ends with one of the best affirmations of the practical benefits of freedom that I've read in a long time, and an appeal to leave our most intractable economic problems to the free market: such problems really are "beyond politics."
With e-books I do have a problem reading the kinds of charts common to economics volumes.