Clause 61: The Pushback Blog

Because ideas have consequences

The Special Interests

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It’s a presidential election year, so we brace ourselves for all kinds of railing against “special interests.” But how would we know what is and what is not a special interest?

The short answer is that every interest is special. In their 1962 book The Calculus of Consent, Buchanan and Tullock rejected an organic theory of the state:

Only some organic conception of society can postulate the emergence of a mystical general will that is derived independently of the decision-making process in which the political choices made by the separate individuals are controlling. Thus, many versions of idealist democracy are, at base, but variants on the organic conception. The grail-like search for some “public interest” apart from, and independent of, the separate interests of the individual participants in social choice is a familiar activity to be found among both the theorists and the practitioners of modern democracy.
— p. 12

Buchanan and Tullock showed how effective majorities are formed from coalitions of minorities, each of whom has special interests. Those who oppose these coalitions also have special interests. The idea of a public interest that exists apart from the interest of specific individuals is a species of the Rousseauvian general will.

Most attempts to examine the role of pressure groups have bogged down in their efforts to define the “public interest.” If this cannot, in fact, be defined, it becomes impossible to determine, even conceptually, the extent to which the activity of special-interest groups either advances or retards progress toward the “general welfare.” Analysis becomes impossible without a well-defined criterion.
— p. 284.

Collectives cannot speak for themselves. Even when voting, the members of a large collective can only practically choose from among the menu of options offered to them: candidates Goldsmith, Jones, or Mercadante; for or against the question as worded.

The idea of the public interest presupposes, and indeed requires, priests of political science who can divine the ineffable interest of the public, as distinct from the special interests of any individual or subgroup. Such a priesthood could never be ideologically neutral; the priests would always have their own agendas. We must be suspicious of those who claim to have access to the mysteries and set themselves up as such priests.

Every interest is special, including yours.


Written by srojak

January 21, 2016 at 12:30 pm

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