(Mis)trust of Public Officials

Marshall Dayan mdayan at nccu.edu
Thu Nov 3 08:57:20 PST 2005

Those same individuals were either not in the Weimar Republic or were
not the public officials at the top of the governmental hierarchy to
which I think we're referring when we speak of "public officials."  

>>> <isomin at gmu.edu> 11/3/2005 11:52:03 AM >>>
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.

Ilya Somin
Assistant Professor of Law
George Mason University School of Law
3301 Fairfax Dr.
Arlington, VA 22201
ph: 703-993-8069
fax: 703-993-8202
e-mail: isomin at gmu.edu 
Website: http://mason.gmu.edu/~isomin/ 

----- 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
> choices to cut corners; it's the system.  As a self-professed
> 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
> 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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