International trade policy: Benevolent dictators and optimizing politicians

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The claim that sophisticated non-operational efficiency-based arguments for intervention facilitate obfuscatory policy-induced income transfers will meet, in some quarters, the counterclaim that this is an overly cynical interpretation of politicians' policy motives. 'Rent-seeking' can likewise be argued to be an overly cynical conception. The theory of rent-seeking would impute self-interest motives to the offer of payment for a cup of coffee. The different perceptions of policy motives are particularly evident when the debate turns to the existence of politically allocated rents. The beneficiaries of politically allocated rents have an interest in denying the existence of rents that have been allocated via the discretionary political process, and in claiming that observed transfers reflect socially warranted considerations. It is therefore not evident that the motives underlying trade policy constitute a topic on which consensus can be sought. For in particular the beneficiaries of protection (and their protagonists) will always prefer the model with the benevolent dictator to the more crass model that acknowledges the institutional decision making environment of representative democracy and optimizing politicians.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalPublic Choice
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1992


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