Category Archives: Public Choice

Alan Stern and David Grinspoon – Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto

Alan Stern and David Grinspoon – Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto

An inside history of the New Horizons mission, which sent a satellite past Pluto. Stern is the Principle Investigator (head honcho) for the mission, and Grinspoon assisted with PR as well as some of the mission science. The photographs are beautiful, the science is awe-inspiring, and the amount of work the team put in is admirable.

I was especially struck by the amount of politicking, bureaucratic infighting, turf wars among contractors, and backroom-dealing that went into the mission, delayed it for years, and almost killed it altogether. I found a similar theme in Steve Squyres’ book about the Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers (Squyres was the PI for that mission).

Public choice theorists will find a vindication of Gordon Tullock’s The Organization of Inquiry, which is an economics-based analysis of how scientists behave.

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James M. Buchanan – Ideas, Persons, & Events: The Collected Works of James M. Buchanan, Volume 19

James M. Buchanan – Ideas, Persons, & Events: The Collected Works of James M. Buchanan, Volume 19

An essay collection that shows Buchanan’s wide range of interests. Most economists stick to their discipline, rarely wandering outside its comfortable enclosure. Buchanan thought, read, and wrote on a much bigger scale, incorporating political science, philosophy, history, literature, and more into his work. About the only thing Buchanan wasn’t interested in was agrarian poetry, a bizarre allegation of some of his critics. And he was delighted to be at least as influenced by his colleagues as they were by him. Those aspects of this book, and Buchanan’s larger research program, are as valuable as its contents.

GM Layoffs, Tariffs, and Subsidies

Over at Fox Business, I explore three lessons policy makers should learn from General Motors’ announcement of 14,700 layoffs and five plant closures:

One, GM is being too shy about the reasons for the layoffs. President Trump’s tariffs have already cost the company a billion dollars. GM is skirting the topic, possibly to avoid political blowback—a strategy that is already not working.

Two, President Trump is right to want to end GM’s government subsidies, but for the wrong reasons.

Three, contrary to popular belief, U.S. manufacturing is healthy, despite GM’s bad news.

On that third point, real value-added manufacturing output recently set an all-time record, eclipsing the old mark set in 2007. As is often the case, popular fears are unfounded. Read the whole thing here.

Free Trade and Elections

Over at the American Institute for Economic Research, Max Gulker has a perceptive take on why support for free trade doesn’t much matter for winning or losing elections. As he points out, tariffs “were only a hot campaign topic in select states and congressional districts. When candidates did discuss trade, they presented it as an issue of gamesmanship rather than economics.”

In other words, politics and policy are different things.

Gulker is also kind enough to cite something I wrote a while back about public choice and trade. Aside from that, he makes a valuable contribution to the debate.

Virtuous Capitalism in Theory and Practice

Government is responsible for billions and billions of dollars of corruption and corporate welfare. Considering the potential returns on investment compared to honest entrepreneurship, it is a minor miracle the vice-to-virtue ratio in the economy isn’t even worse than it already is. Why is that? CEI founder Fred Smith and I wrote a recent paper, “Virtuous Capitalism,” which explores several possible answers to the question.

If you don’t have time to read the whole thing, Fred summarizes it in his most recent Forbes column, to which I contributed:

Capitalism has a bad reputation. Many people see it as corrupt, uncaring, and in bed with politicians. And popular wisdom isn’t always wrong. For example, take the Export-Import Bank’s pending renewal. How dare large, healthy businesses such as Boeing and General Electric receive billions of dollars-worth of special privileges?

Has Big Business thought through the political and social costs of such self-aggrandizement? Is sacrificing long-term moral standing for short-term dollars really wise?

Read the whole column here. The paper is here.

Virtuous Capitalism vs. Rent-Seeking

Over at the Institute for Energy Research’s Master Resource blog, I have a guest post summarizing Fred Smith’s and my recent paper, “Virtuous Capitalism.” The post is here, and the paper is here.

Ethics and Rent-Seeking

Nice writeup of Fred Smith’s and my recent paper at Business Ethics Highlights.