Public choice

Just thinking out loud and putting some notes. I know very little about public choice so my thinking is likely to change over time.

Consider the two “main” positions in public choice:

  1. The public elects for good policies, but politicians renege on their promises, leading to bad policy.1

  2. The public is often clueless about what good policy is. On the other hand, politicians usually implement what they are elected for. So the ignorance of the public leads directly to bad policy.2

What I want to claim is that for advocacy causes, the strategy for good advocacy changes dramatically depending on which of the above two is true. That is, if the conclusion is that politicians just follow the public opinion, then one should change the public opinion, but if the conclusion is that politicians go rogue, are selfish, and heed to corporations (or whatever the narrative is), then one should lobby for good policy.

Notes

See also Huemer in §9.4.3 of The Problem of Political Authority, who discusses on the basis of self-interest that for individuals, participating in the political process is not worth the cost (of doing research, etc.) whereas for special-interest groups there is much to be gained (hence lobbying). He concludes the section with:

This is how modern democracy works. Concentrated, well-organized special-interest groups use the apparatus of the state to extract profit at the expense of the majority of their own society, often in addition to hapless victims in other countries.


  1. See this quote from “Niskanen Center Conspectus”:

    Surprisingly enough, there is nothing unusual about this story. Academics who have performed regression analyses find little relationship between the extent or direction of policy change and changes in public opinion or electoral outcomes. If public opinion truly drove public policy, trade policy would be more protectionist, foreign aid would not exist, there would be more restrictions on abortion, a higher minimum wage, more generous unemployment benefits, tighter corporate regulation, and a more progressive income tax.

  2. See for instance Bryan Caplan.