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Mises and Bastiat on How Democracy Goes Wrong, Part I

By Bryan Caplan

"It is only to be expected that the general public prefers to blame political insiders—rather than itself—for bad policies. But economists also... rarely put the man in the street on their list of suspects." Economists are habitually disappointed by what governments do. Dictatorships are the worst offenders, featuring a rogue's gallery of impoverishing policies from farm collectivization to backyard steel mills to expulsions of minority merchant classes. But democracies also frequently pursue policies—like protectionism and price controls—that every introductory economics textbook concludes are a costly burden upon the general public. How is this possible? How can majoritarian politics durably sustain policies harmful to majority interests? The most popular way to resolve this puzzle is to blame special interests for undermining the democratic process. Protectionism hurts most people, but the minority which benefits lobbies heavily on its behalf. The main problem with t...

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