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James Buchanan = Market Marxism–Leninism

11 Jan 2013

Crooked Timber posts a brilliant new-to-me article about what James Buchanan and his public choice theory really mean.

The central points of the Marxist-Leninist theory are
  1. Politics is about struggle between economic classes. The state acts in the interest of the capitalist class as a whole, and arbitrates differences among ‘fractions’ of capital;
  2. Political ideas (except Marxism-Leninism) are ‘ideologies’ designed to rationalise class rule;
  3. The masses acquiesce because of ‘false consciousness’ associated with submission to a dominant or ‘hegemonic’ ideology.
Translating to public choice theory, we get:
  1. Politics is about the struggle between interest groups. The state responds to the pressure of organised interest groups, typically tight coalitions of producer groups. Logrolling between these groups produces an outcome which benefits them collectively at the expense of taxpayers and consumers;
  2. Political ideas (except free-market ideas) are ideologies designed to rationalise policies serving various interest groups;
  3. Voters acquiesce because of ‘rational ignorance’ which leads them to take little interest in politics and makes them easily subject to manipulation by political interests.
On the Leninist implications of both theories
If ideas do not matter, free speech is at best a luxury and at worst a distraction. Even if speech is not actually suppressed, it is debased. When political debate is seen as a charade by its participants, it naturally becomes one. Furthermore, since the system cannot be changed by reason, some form of ‘short sharp shock’ is required. The result is a cult of ruthlessness (the catchphrase here is ‘tough decisions’). Since opposition to one’s policies is interpreted as a sign that interest groups are being hurt, it may be taken as evidence of correctness. The correct response is not to persuade one’s opponents, but to override them.