Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Well Armed Sheep

A man struts into a bar and declares it is in his best interest to leave without picking up the tab. The bartender disagrees. The other patrons also disagree. Naturally, this bartender would absorb the cost of the unpaid tab, and the regular patrons would eventually pay some small amount more. Of course they would rise, and perhaps in the name of fairness.

It is easy to convince people to accept a benefit. Pork-barreling politicians are adored in their districts for a steady stream of projects and endowments. It is clear that the funding for these projects comes from the income taxes of these same constituents, but an adapt politician manages to transfer the expenses to others. The actual costs are borne by outside groups. The politicians have satisfied their constituents by negatively impacting the voters from other districts.

The obvious goal for an economically aware citizen is to make sure the large system is fair to the people who pay for these project. The two possibilities are to cut the funding by limiting government or increase the size of the system by adding special interests. It seems to me that either side can be related to a particular Benjamin Franklin adage:

"Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what is for dinner. Liberty is a well armed sheep contesting the vote."

If one strives to protect their liberties by collecting into groups of mutual interest, or if one seeks to reduce the size of government, they would see a more fair decision being made in respect to their personal wealth. Now, of course, the interest group could fly a state legislator over the Grand Canyon and likely assure greater-than-fair benefits for their group, but given the likelihood that other interest groups would do the same it is quite difficult to justify sitting out of the race.

Interestingly enough, the global fisheries industries offer another example of irrational group actions. The increasing pressure from more technologically and financially equipped fishermen has driven about a dozen formerly productive fisheries to shortages, resulting in overall losses for everyone involved. The best option is a system that balances the resources against the demands on the resources; the Alaskan fisheries management is among the most successful models of such a regulatory system. If one were considering the Western coast of Africa, where no such regulation existed, it would be easy to imagine the motivations of the individuals that destroyed the formerly productive fishery. As overfishing begins to take a toll, the individual could stop fishing while their competitors went ahead and overfished anyway, or they could gradually go bankrupt.

I am curious if the voter theories proposed by Mitchell would still hold in smaller elections. Would the same balance of motivation and impact hold in a local House election, or school board decisions?

No comments:

Post a Comment