catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

posner, buchanan and the next political innovation

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posner has a nice post up about drugs for rare diseases, called orphan drugs in the US:

the main point is that although the government incentive has worked, who knows what the costs are. it is reasonable to believe that the opportunity costs of government deciding which industries should have government incentives (through protection from competition, or in other cases direct subsidy) is greater than the benefits, if not in each and every case, at least in the aggregate. presumably the market will tell industry what to invest in, whether it be drugs or televisions.

this leads me to the postings happening over at the cato institute’s blog, cato-unbound. there buchanan has suggested a constitutional amendment on generality (amongst others). we have reasonable generality in law, but not in politics. for example, within the common law, everyone is equal. everyone is entitled to a trial, and prohibitions on murder, rape, theft etcetera apply to everyone within the society.

in politics however, if the government wishes to subsidise some group, say students or the unemployed, they are pretty much free to do so. previously in history, the law, administered by the executive, such as a king was pretty arbitrary. the king could probably hang “traitors” with impunity. it is much harder now for the executive to hang their enemies. (although of course state sanctioned political assasinations probably still occur under democratic governments) . this suggests a next stage for the march of liberalism: imagine a country where the government was essentially restricted to generality, that is they could not implement their own pet policies. a flat income tax might be acceptable, to provide for defence and courts, but most special interest politics would be abolished.

of course, the problem with generality (as respondents at cato-unbound have pointed out) is what things are equal. if we have an income tax free threshold, is it general because everyone could have a low income, or is it not general because only the poor get this benefit. these are real problems, but current politics does not even aim to be general (as the common law does) . no-one thinks twice about a subsidy to single parents, or long term unemployed, or people of certain backgrounds. the next step up the ladder for society is to move beyond special interest politics and enshrine generality at least as an ideal. the generality of law has enabled great progress in liberal democracies, and the same ideal in politics will provide yet more gains.

Written by Admin

December 12, 2005 at 5:43 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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