The cover of this week’s Economist magazine features a discussion of millennial attraction to Socialism. But the track record of socialism in reality is dismal in advancing human happiness. Why might that be?
A good place to start in analysis is human nature. Not everyone does a good job in building up and exercising their Moral Sense. Especially when, as economists say, they can extract rents from the economy due to their political positions. If you live off rents – cash which just flows to you, come hell or high water, why be accountable to others, who are pestering you about your shortcomings? Whether French aristocrats under the Bourbons or today’s tenured faculty or civil servants, those who extract rents are walled-off from the stresses and strains of ordinary life.
In public administration, this aspect of bureaucracy is called public choice theory. It seeks to explain why bureaucrats on average don’t provide good personal service to the public or, rather, put personal advantage over the common weal.
A recent example of rent-extractors at work is the demise of the A-380.
Government bureaucrats and a government-led company, Airbus, could design and build a remarkable airplane the A-380. But they could not get customers to use it. So they had to stop making it.
Ultimately the values of ordinary people – where they chose to fly -did not provide enough money to pay for the making of more such giant planes.
Second, it may also be that high tax (Socialist) administrative regimes encourage rent-extraction behaviors. A recent commentary in the Feb 20 Wall Street Journal assembled data to illustrate the point that American states which collect the most taxes don’t deliver high quality infrastructure. In these administrations public employees and union members aligned with the ruling party collect a growing share of tax revenues.
So, for example where Europe and Japan can build subway tunnels for between $160 to $480 million per mile, New York City paid $2.8 and $2.1 trillion per mile to extend two subway lines. Unionize tunnel workers earned $111 an hour in New York while Detroit paid $38 per hour and Germany $40.
Wealth extraction in the form of zoning regulations restricting construction of apartments increases housing prices to the advantage of those with higher incomes.