Self-Interest and Public Interest in Western Politics

By Leif Lewin; Donald Lavery | Go to book overview

5
Individual and Collective Rationality

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

Even if one can still find learned scholars who dispute questions of method and problems of interpretation, the great majority of empirical researchers are by now agreed, as we have seen, that the hypothesis concerning the predominant role of self-interest in Western politics cannot be upheld. It is true that voters are guided to a great extent by economic motives, but it is not so much private economic advantage as assessments of the government's ability to manage the economy of the country as a whole that underlie these decisions. Politicians always intend to win an election but only in a few exceptional cases have they been shown to manipulate the economy to that end. Bureaucrats are as pleased as anyone when their work is successful but those researchers who have attributed to them the ambition to maximize their budget rather than to be loyal and do a good job have had an extremely difficult time of it trying to find empirical support for their view.

How is one to account for the fact that public interest thus seems to be of greater importance than self-interest in politics? This is the question to be discussed in this concluding chapter.

As we have seen, the proponents of the public-choice school have not been slow in ridiculing political scientists who naïvely believe that politicians, in contrast to everyone else, work to achieve the common good instead of to maximize their self-interest.1 Social critics take the postulates of the school for granted: 'of course, people in the public sector are as much motived by self-interest as people in the private sector';2 citizens are beginning to realize 'that human beings are never so selfish as in politics'.3

In light of the research findings presented above, these unqualified statements certainly appear to be uncalled-for. But before we delve

-98-

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Self-Interest and Public Interest in Western Politics
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page vii
  • Contents ix
  • I- Self-Interest and Public Interest 1
  • 2- Does the Voter Follow His Pocket-Book? 29
  • CONCLUSIONS 58
  • 3- Are Politicians Vote-Maximizers? 60
  • CONCLUSIONS 73
  • 4- Are Bureaucrats Budget-Maximizers? 75
  • CONCLUSIONS 94
  • 5- Individual and Collective Rationality 98
  • Notes 113
  • Bibliography 129
  • Index 141
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