Why do we assume that business firms are engaged in the “pursuit of self-interest,” but that government bureaucracies are engaged in “public service”?

Far be it from me to suggest that businessmen don’t pursue their interests.  Of course they do.  They want greater profits, a larger market share, and higher stature.

But so do government bureaucrats.  They want greater budgets, a larger number of clients, and higher prestige.  They too build fiefdoms and empires.

To achieve their goals, both businessmen and bureaucrats provide goods and services.  In this sense, both do something for the public (or anyway, for someone).  But how well do they do it?  Unless they have monopolies – which are difficult to preserve without government collusion -- businessmen have to provide goods and services at a reasonable price, or they will be squeezed out by other firms.  For bureaucrats, efficiency is a much smaller concern, because the price of what they offer is hidden in taxes, and they don’t have to compete.

We rightly turn over certain functions to the government, because there is no sensible alternative.  National defense, for example, must be provided by public authority; so must the making of laws.

But not many goods and services meet this criterion, and to think that earning a living in business is selfish, but that earning it from government is virtuous, is simply absurd.

Tomorrow:  Straw Men and Other Silly Arguments