(Mis)trust of Public Officials
isomin at gmu.edu
isomin at gmu.edu
Thu Nov 3 08:52:03 PST 2005
This, I think, is a distortion of my argument. I was not claiming that mendacious officials aren't blameworthy. I was arguing that a broad pattern of government mendacity cannot be attributed merely to the bad character of individuals, but rather to a structure of incentives that makes it likely that such individuals will have an advantage in political competition.
The overrwrought Eichman analogy actually strengthens this point. Yes, Eichman was a bad person who deserved to be punished, but it is also evident that the Holocaust happened not just because there were evil individuals willing to carry it out, but because of the structure of incentives created by the Nazi totalitarian regime. Those same evil individuals, after all, behaved differently under the Weimar Republic, when incentive structure was different.
Assistant Professor of Law
George Mason University School of Law
3301 Fairfax Dr.
Arlington, VA 22201
e-mail: isomin at gmu.edu
----- Original Message -----
From: Marshall Dayan <mdayan at nccu.edu>
Date: Thursday, November 3, 2005 11:35 am
Subject: (Mis)trust of Public Officials
> With all due respect, Prof. Somin's explanation reads as an updated
> version of Eichmann in Jerusalem. It's not the individuals that make
> choices to cut corners; it's the system. As a self-professed liberal,
> some will wonder where all this "personal responsibility" talk comes
> from, but I expect public officials to set a moral example. I think
> Brandeis' influence on my thinking about this is dominant: We can and
> should expect the government to set the moral example. That is
> precisely why people were so angry at President Clinton, even
> though he
> lied about something that any married man would lie about (if that
> married man had reason to lie based upon his behavior). To my
> mind, the
> government remains "the omnipresent teacher, . . . it teaches the
> wholepeople by its example."
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