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April 27, 2006



"Office determines character more than character determines office": that's an interesting one. How about "For the sort of weak or perverted characters who nurture great political ambitions, office influences character to make it even worse"?

Luis Enrique

this is interesting stuff.

I like this: "Power doesn’t merely corrupt. It enslaves. Many rulers are not as free as we think."

But how different is what you are saying from the (more generous version) idea that politicians have to make an awful lot of compromises and they are under an awful lot of constraints that aren't obvious from the outside?

What do you think could be done to improve our political insitutions in this respect?


Isn't exactly the same thing happening with Cameron's conservatives?


However. If the negative externalities are not fully accounted for, even a market can ultimately fail (as in the case of pollution).


Extremely thought-provoking. I agree with almost all of your points, but at the last moment...

There is indeed something deeply dysfunctional about political institutions as they exist now. I suggest that one substantial reason for this is the subjugation of most political goals (what are the institutions for, if not to advance towards an explicit set of goals?) to the dogma of liberalised markets. This trend has been going in only one direction since about 1980. It's not a direction that I'd characterise as good (and I suspect neither would you, if I read your words correctly).

Is this the reason why mainstream political parties are now so unattractive to the voters they should exist to serve? Politics has become primarily a business of getting power, rather than advancing goals (or interests).

I also think your last statement is a dangerous generalisation: markets certainly do sometimes make bad people acting for bad reasons do good things, but they also provide a dogmatic justification for good or bad people to do bad things to other people (the lowest-common-denominator effect, illustrated by incentive to pollute).

Why dangerous? If no improvement to the political institutions is suggested (other than downsizing or removing them), and we rely on the alleged property of markets to produce good outcomes, what is left to stop a society fragmenting into tribal and clan allegiances? For example, Afghanistan's government is small and impotent - I don't think that produces a good outcome (not by my criteria anyway).

Marcin Tustin

In reply to FishAreFun, I would suggest that it is not the trend towards liberalised markets that is the problem because liberalisation has indeed been weak, and arguably been pursued by incorporating political control in such a manner that we achieve the worst of both worlds.

Instead, the problem seems to be the fetishization of the private sector by politicians. To often the argument is "by involving the private sector we can gain the benefit attributable properly only to markets" without realising that it is not private ownership but the market that provides the benefit, or the argument that "this feature is present in the market/private sector, so introducing it in isolation will make the public sector better".


Marcin Tustin,
I agree; it was my own lazy shorthand, combined with economic illiteracy, to use 'liberalised markets'. I need to follow up more of the links provided in the posts, and learn some of the basics.

Your phrase 'fetishization of the private sector by politicians is an accurate description of the phenomenon to which I was referring.

My opinion FWIW is that markets, operating within a democratically-mandated framework, are often the most efficient mechanism to achieve good ends. A better understanding of how markets work, and what the effects of the framework (environment) are on how they work, is badly needed.

My disillusionment with political institiutions stems from the fact that they seem to ignore the qurestion of the framework entirely, for example the phrase 'you can't buck the market'. Technically, in a narrow sense, indisputable, but can we not hope to set the parameters which define the operation of markets, hopefully to achieve stated, desirable ends?

Laurent GUERBY

Markets are a political institution.

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