Thursday, May 22, 2008

It isn't nicknamed Taxachusetts lightly

Russ Roberts explains the "Willie Sutton" theory behind Massachusetts wanting to tax universities with large endowments.
Of course, there is overlap. Sometimes, politicians buy love and votes by correcting market failures. Or by at least trying to correct market failures. But too often, they're just using the language of market failure to act like Willie Sutton. If you worry, as I do, about this latter tendency, the road to a better life is to limit the power of government by changing the constraints that politicians face, rather than trying to elect wiser, kinder people. The biggest determinant of the quality of public policy is the quality of the constraints on politicians not the quality of the politicians.
"Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." We've all heard that before, but how many voters fail to realize that if power is limitless, it doesn't matter how "good" a person is elected? A saint will become corrupted, just as surely as "expenses rise to meet income" for most people. So for the latter, restrain spending first -- and this applies for spendthrift households, and spendthrift government that thinks it'll just raise taxes. For the former, restrain politicians' powers. You could elect Satan to office, but if his office's powers are minimal, then also minimal is what he can do to you.


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