Wednesday, March 24, 2021

George Orwell as a Public Choice Economist?

George Orwell as a Public Choice Economist? is an essay by Michael Makovi.

George Orwell's famous novels Animal Farm and Nineteen can give the impression that Orwell was an anti-socialist. However, he was not strongly anti-socialist. Makovi holds that:

- George Orwell was a (democratic) socialist, despite his famous novels being biting satires of socialism, and

- Orwell’s criticisms were directed not against socialism per se but against the Soviet Union and similarly totalitarian regimes.

The Wikipedia article about Orwell agrees. "His work is characterised by lucid prose, biting social criticism, opposition to totalitarianism, and outspoken support of democratic socialism."

What's unique about both articles is that Makovi portrays Orwell as a public choice economist. Orwell died in 1950 before public choice economics gained much recognition in the 1960s, but there were strands of public choice economics in the 1950s. 

The first article has a good description of public choice economics in layman terms. 

"This interpretation of market activity as being based largely on self-interest is probably familiar to most readers, even those not trained in economics. Yet somehow, when we shift to the study of politics, the general assumption is often that political officials are not  self-interested, that they serve only the public good for conscience’s sake."

"No doubt, there are many individuals who are in politics because they sincerely wish to advance the public weal. But Public Choice is skeptical of the assumption that just because someone is in government office, he is an altruist. Public Choice argues that we ought to assume that political officials are every bit as self-interested - or not - as market actors - no more, no less. In other words, Public Choice assumes moral, behavioral, and psychological equivalence between public and private actors. This does not necessarily mean people seek to maximize their financial wealth alone, for self-interest means only seeking to obtain whatever an individual person subjectively desires, which may or may not be money." 

I add that the politician's self-interest may also be power over the lives of other people. The politician is in a position of using coercion or threat of coercion -- typically with somebody else, the police or the court system, doing the enforcing -- to punish or induce said others to act in a manner desired by the politician.

This is not to say that I view all power negatively. High-level executives in a private business have lots of power. The decisions they make may strongly affect the business and its employees. However, the executives generally do not have the power to enforce their decisions in the manner that politicians do, backed by a coercive government. 

Thiinterpretation of market activitas beingbased largely on self-interest is probably familiar tomost readers, even those not trained in economics.Yet somehow, when we shift to the study of poli-ticsthe general assumption is often thapoliticalofficials are
 self-interested, that they serve onlythe public good for conscience’s sake.

No comments:

Post a Comment