Saturday, January 5, 2019

The Calculus Of Consent


"Norms for behavior have often been substituted for testable hypotheses about behavior. We do not propose to take a position on the moral question regarding what variables should enter into the individual’s utility function when he participates in social choice, nor do we propose to go further and explore the immensely difficult set of problems concerned with the ultimate philosophical implications of the utilitarian conception of human nature. As we conceive our task, it is primarily one of analysis. We know that one interpretation of human activity suggests that men do, in fact, seek to maximize individual utilities when they participate in political decisions and that individual utility functions differ. We propose to analyze the results of various choice-making rules on the basis of this behavioral assumption, and we do so independently of the moral censure that might or might not be placed on such individual self-seeking action." (James M. Buchanan, The Calculus of Consent: Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy)
'Each person seeks mastery over a world of slaves,' Buchanan wrote in his 1975 book The Limits of Liberty. 
- Who is this guy Buchanan?
- No less than a Nobel Prize winning economist whose theories are supposed to be behind the actual doings of the American government.
- Just what we need: another conspiracy theory.* Alright. Tell me.
- Basically, the theory goes, human beings only care about themselves. Government officials are human beings. People with money are only concerned with keeping people without money from using government to take away the money from people who have it. Therefore people with money fund both political parties, Republican and Democratic, the only difference between the parties being one is the party of slaves who want there to remain divisions or levels of slavery, with males, old, white ruling over women, young, and dark, while the other party wants to make all slaves equal, without advantage to one sex, age, race. The real government is bribed by the rich to increase their power over the slaves by changing government policy. More power over slaves may require, according to the theory, a larger government rather than small: for example, business regulation makes small business more difficult therefore favors big business and monopoly. Big government also allows mass surveillance which undermines the will of the slaves to revolt. What do you think of this?
- Where is the "logical foundation" of his book's title?
- In the assumption of rational pursuit of desires, and in what Buchanan calls "Public Choice" theory, which is that government officials also pursue their own interests, which allows those with money to buy in the marketplace of politics their complicity in the remaking of government institutions so as to lessen or even eliminate the ability of the not rich to influence government policy.
- The logic is in that, assuming everyone rationally pursues their desires in relation to other rational desire seekers, we can calculate outcomes as realized in the form of government based on the wealth of marketplace participants. Can I say I find this immensely stupid?
- It's a free country.
- Not if this theory is put into action! I meant stupid because although we humble human beings are said to rationally pursue our desires, we are not supposed to rationally choose our desires.
- Excellent.
- You agree then?
- Certainly. In presenting a game plan - capture the institutions and remake them to serve your interests - Buchanan shows the rich how to protect and increase their wealth at the expense of everyone else. But, as he writes, he makes no attempt to argue that this in any way is a humanly desirable activity.
- You mean to show it is an activity that is reasonable to desire.
- Yes.
- Could there then be a book written on the logical foundations of a government that not just managed desires but itself would be reasonable to desire?
- Because it managed only those desires that would be reasonable to desire?
- Yes.
-  A book might very well pursue the counter logic: Once human beings banded together for self defense they used the resulting security not to elaborate theories of how to permanently rape and pillage everyone else, but to shift from power relations between people to knowledge relations: to learning, loving, giving.
- And that shift from power-seeking to knowledge-seeking would be rational to desire?
- Yes.
- But if not everyone agrees - and the rich of our great nation certainly don't - how could such a logic be implemented as Buchanan's followers have so successfully implemented their theory?
- And save Buchanan's principle of unanimity: that all without exception benefit in a reasonable political exchange? The logical problem is easily solved by isolating people of different ideas of what desires are reasonable in separate local communities, which all can reasonably and unanimously federate for limited reasonable purposes such as self defense.
- I don't see how that would work.
- Why not?
- Because what the rich desire is that very rape and pillage you mentioned. If you fence them in into one community, they'll have no one to rape and pillage other than each other. Reasonable pursuit of their desires will lead to their mutual destruction.
- You're saying that the rich have a reasonable desire to stop the rest from forming a government of reasonable desires.
- Yes.
- So this is how I'd like to leave the discussion: Buchanan's Nobel Prize winning economic theory sold itself as foundation laying pure logic and mathematics. But the theory logically implemented by the rich leads them to preventing the logical action of everyone else. The theory is profoundly illogical and destructive.

Further Reading:
Believe It Or Not
Kant & Compromise
Surviving On Miracles
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* See: Meet the Economist Behind the One Percent’s Stealth Takeover of America