Obama's Shutdown and Public Choice Theory

More and more, as we Americans trudge through the mire of the Obama years, we have to ask if the president is just plain ignorant. He doesn't seem to have bothered to study the political classics that tell a political leader why he should avoid dividing his people and avoid creating scapegoats.

And now, in an interview on NPR, the president has said that "I shouldn't have to offer anything."

Fortunately, for those people that give no credit to the thought of ancient dead white males, there is the modern settled science of just-dead white males to show the error of the president's ways. I am thinking of public choice theory and in particular the public choice bible The Calculus of Consent written by James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock.

After hundreds of pages analyzing all the various kinds of government voting systems and the logrolling that each allows, Buchanan and Tullock come to a fairly simple conclusion. The only kind of voting that prevents the loser from getting screwed is unanimous consent.

Why is that? It's because only voting by unanimous consent forces the majority to pay the costs that a new law will impose on the minority.

Here's how it works. If you want to build a new road in the county, the people that won't benefit won't want to pay for it. But if you offer them enough money, then you can get them to agree to vote for your road project. How much money will it take for them to change their minds? Who knows? That's what negotiation is for.

When President Obama says he shouldn't have to negotiate he is saying that he doesn't want to pay for the costs he is imposing on the minority.

It's settled science. To avoid visiting injustice on the minority you must negotiate until they agree to go along.

Notice the nobility of the unanimous consent voting system. It forces the majority to negotiate until a solution is found that the minority experiences as just.

This, I think we can all agree, with unanimous consent, is a concept that President Obama just doesn't get.

Let's leave the president in the hellhole of his Alinsky's Rules, and think some more beautiful thoughts.

It seems to me that under a unanimous consent system you create a virtuous circle of trust and comity. If the losers get consideration in a government project that they don't really like at all, then the losers in Issue One might be open to the idea of considering the objections of a different minority when they find themselves in a majority on Issue Two. And so on.

Trust. Comity. In Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity Francis Fukuyama asserts that the U.S. is a "high trust" society. At least, it was.

But politics is division, so politics tends to erode trust, particularly when you have a president that believes in Alinsky's Rules for Radicals, what I think we should call the "Radical Suit Theory."

In this highly advanced political science concept, we understand political activists as itinerant radical suits, going from one gig to the next riling up the oppressed and the marginalized. You might start in the 1980s in South Chicago riling up the laid-off steelworkers. Then you might progress to ACORN in the 1990s riling up the folks against the red-lining banks. After the credit crisis consequent upon banks being forced to lend to deadbeats, you might end up as president riling up the Democratic base and refusing to negotiate on the federal budget. You never really negotiate, and you never really solve anything; but you sure manage to destroy trust and divide the nation.

Arthur Brooks writes that "great leaders negotiate and own the consequences." He quotes Winston Churchill: "The price of greatness is responsibility."

In fact, Brooks is talking about the concept of the "scapegoat" as understood in ancient times. Today it's different, says Wikipedia. A "scapegoat is an individual, group, or country singled out for unmerited negative treatment or blame." But in ancient usage the scapegoat was an actual goat used in a ritual of purification. Then there is the idea of the dying king, whose death is a sacrifice, offered back to the earth so that a new king may sprout up and rule. There is the greatest scapegoat of all, Jesus Christ the Son of God, sacrificed for all the sins of the world.

In progressive politics, in Radical Suit Theory, in the presidency of Barack Obama, the ancient concept of the "scapegoat" is turned from an act of purification and unification into a sordid political trick to divide one group from another.

Ordinary Americans are already paying dearly for this. In the future they will pay more.

Christopher Chantrill (mailto:chrischantrill@gmail.com) is a frequent contributor to American Thinker. See his usgovernmentspending.com and also usgovernmentdebt.us. At americanmanifesto.org he is blogging and writing An American Manifesto: Life After Liberalism. Get his Road to the Middle Class.