Marginal Revolution: Small Steps Toward an Imperceptibly Better World
By Bryan Caplan
Since its inception, the slogan of Marginal Revolution has been “Small steps toward a much better world.” It turns out, however, that MR’s prolific Tyler Cowen doesn’t think that policy would improve much even if everyone knew as much economics as he does:
Building coalitions requires politics. That includes compromises, horse-trading, shading the truth, and so on. “Me as politician” is not an especially wonderful vision. If I acted like Tyler the blogger, I would lose power very quickly. Even if I stayed in office. Having some “me’s” in the voting booth wouldn’t much change this.
We might avoid a few total bonehead policies, if only by shifting the bargaining point. But government wouldn’t become much more efficient, at least not as long as coalitions need to be built.
Tyler advocates a lot of unpopular policies. He recently told U.S. News and World Report his top five, including “Eliminate all farm subsidies, quotas, and price supports. Eliminate all tariffs. Eliminate all budget earmarks. Eliminate all corporate welfare.” But somehow, it wouldn’t make much difference if everyone agreed with his hugely unpopular proposals?
This is crazy talk. The plain fact about U.S. politics is that when almost everyone wants a policy, it almost always happens. Counter-examples are few and far between – check the GSS.
The real puzzle, for me, is why Tyler is so unreasonably fatalistic. He can already say “The world will never listen to me.” Why must he implausibly add that “It wouldn’t make much difference if everyone agreed with me”?