Beyond Politics Exposes the Roots of Government Failure

Economic “stimulus” packages that don’t revive the economy and that increase federal deficits and undermine private investment and job growth? Check. Laws meant to protect endangered species but which incentivize landowners who have them on their property to “shoot, shovel, and shut-up”? Check. Anti-poverty programs that foster dependency and hinder participation in the job market? Check.

Social and economic problems are usually met with calls for the government to “do something,” especially when the trouble is allegedly caused by the failure of a free market. But good intentions don’t ensure good results. In his illuminating new book, Beyond Politics: The Roots of Government Failure, political scientist Randy T. Simmons (Senior Fellow, The Independent Institute) explains why government policies don’t work as promised.

To understand why government policies fail, Simmons argues, we must rethink common assumptions about politics and markets, and make sense of the institutions that shape the incentives and decisions of voters, politicians, bureaucrats, and interest groups. After presenting a thorough examination of those assumptions and institutions, Simmons exposes the roots of government failure in areas as varied as public education, environmental protection, social welfare, consumer protection, tax policy, producer-rigged markets, and macroeconomic policy. He concludes by offering guidelines that would foster a society consistent with the Founders’ vision of a republic that safeguards individual liberty.

Originally published in 1995 with co-author William C. Mitchell, Beyond Politics has been revised and updated to provide readers with insights about the financial crisis of 2008, America’s fiscal problems, and other realities of twenty-first century political economy. Readers versed in economics and political science will find the book a refreshing synthesis of public-choice theory, New Institutional Economics, and the market-process analysis of the Austrian school of economics. Practitioners of the dark arts of policymaking will find it a treasure trove of cautionary tales that illustrate the adage, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” After reading Beyond Politics, no one will ever be surprised to see public-policy outcomes diverge, often tremendously, from political promises, and no reader will lack useful ideas to improve the public sphere.

Beyond Politics: The Roots of Government Failure, by Randy T. Simmons

Detailed book summary

[This post first appeared in the October 25, 2011, issue of The Lighthouse. To receive this weekly email newsletter of publication summaries and event announcements from the Independent Institute, enter your email address here.]

Carl Close is Research Fellow and Senior Editor for The Independent Institute and Assistant Editor of The Independent Review and editor of The Lighthouse, The Independent Institute’s weekly e-mail newsletter.
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