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Readers Forum

SEPTEMBER 01, 1989

To the Editors:

Thomas DiLorenzo’s excellent article on “Monopoly Government” in the June 1989 issue of The Freeman has one important misstatement. The reason why government is in business does not have anything to do” . . . with the desire to supplement agency budgets with commercial profits” either on the Federal, and certainly not on the local level. It has to do with the prime motivating factor of virtually every politician: getting re-elected! The common name for this is patronage.

Here is how it works: The voter turn-out for the primary election, i.e., the one in which candidates get on the ballot, is always very small. However, those persons who are the beneficiaries of patronage can always be counted upon to vote. Their jobs depend on it. Thus, it is to every politician’s benefit to dispense as much patronage as possible in order to assure himself a place on the ballot for the next election.

In addition, in many localities, such as New York, there are stringent “election laws” for getting on the ballot even for the primary. Among the requirements are a certain number of names on petitions. For a newcomer, getting the required number of names is an arduous task at best. For the incumbent, it’s a lot easier, especially if he has dispensed a lot of patronage.

So there you have it. A great deal of government activity in the commercial sector has to do with the structure of the re-election process.

Lawrence       m. Parks

New York

Dr. DiLorenzo replies:

I agree completely with Dr. Parks’ view that political patronage is a prime motivating force with any politician. I have coauthored two books (Underground Government, Cato Institute, 1983; and Destroying Democracy: How Government Funds Partisan Politics, Cato, 1985) that explore some of the more deceitful tricks that politicians play in their quest for re-election through the patronage system.

I disagree, however, that the importance of patronage conflicts with my contention that governments operate monopolistic, commercial enterprises in order to supplement agency budgets. After all, it takes money to finance patronage jobs. Driving private enterprises from the market is a way in which government enterprises at all levels—especially the local level—finance additional patronage opportunities. In addition to the patronage jobs provided by the monopolistic governmental enterprises themselves, “profits” can be used to create even more patronage jobs elsewhere in the bureaucracy. Thus, we are subjected to a vast system of what I call monopoly government. To add insult to injury, the people who benefit at the expense of the taxpayers call them selves “public servants.”

Thomas J. DiLorenzo

University of Tennessee

Chattanooga

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