Bailout Lessons from Blagojevich


Economist Steve Horwitz wonders how bailout supporters can remain sanguine in the face of things like the Blagojovich indictment:

I simply do not understand how those who are in favor of giving government all of these new powers because they sincerely believe that doing so will work out the way their blackboard designs intended can keep a straight face. What kind of cognitive dissonance must it take to believe that the people YOU are handing power over to are "not like" Ted Stevens or Rod Blagojevich? How deeply must one be in denial or engage in rationalization to believe that they are "different?" How blind must one be to think that trillions of dollars in bailout money won't go to the highest bidder (as the lobbyists line up on K Street…) in a process different only in its wink-and-a-nod courtesies than Blagojevich's auctioning off of a Senate seat?

For me, the key insight of public choice is the same insight that underlies Austrian economics: it is the institutional framework that is the key to understanding the choices people make and the unintended outcomes they produce. As I said to a class last week: "Governments can't act like businesses because businesses only act like businesses because they operate in the institutional environment of private property, monetary exchange, and competition." In the same way, getting politicians to stop selling off their power isn't a matter of ethics or psychology, rather it's about changing the rules of the game such that they do not have as much power to sell. Unfortunately, the current bailout mania is changing those rules in utterly the wrong direction.