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Quotations about Liberty and Power

About this Quotation:

It should not be surprising to see many so-called “public choice” insights in the writings of the Founding Fathers of the American constitution. They were accutely aware of the self-interested activities of legislators and their allies in commerce and industry. Here we have an excellent example of this kind of analysis more commonly associated with the modern Public Choice school of economics pioneered by Tullock and Buchanan. Madison uses the analogy of “harvesting” to describe the behavior of well-informed and politically well-connected individuals who are able to extract “rents” from the opportunities opened up by government regulations and legislation. These “sagacious and monied few” are able then to pocket their political “harvest” at the expence of the ” industrious and uninformed mass of the people”.

16 May, 2011

Madison

James Madison on the “sagacious and monied few” who are able to “harvest” the benefits of government regulations (1787)

Read the full quote in context here.

In Federalist Paper no. 62 James Madison (1751-1836) observes that every piece of government legislation opens up opportunities for profit by a “sagacious and monied few” to take advantage of their less well-informed fellow citizens:

Another effect of public instability, is the unreasonable advantage it gives to the sagacious, the enterprising, and the monied few, over the industrious and uninformed mass of the people. Every new regulation concerning commerce or revenue, or in any manner affecting the value of the different species of property, presents a new harvest to those who watch the change, and can trace its consequences; a harvest, reared not by themselves, but by the toils and cares of the great body of their fellow citizens. This is a state of things in which it may be said, with some truth, that laws are made for the few, not for the many.

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

To trace the mischievous effects of a mutable government, would fill a volume. I will hint a few only, each of which will be perceived to be a source of innumerable others…

The internal effects of a mutable policy are still more calamitous. It poisons the blessings of liberty itself. It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood: if they be repealed or revised before they are promulg[at]ed, or undergo such incessant changes, that no man who knows what the law is to-day, can guess what it will be to-morrow. Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known and less fixed.

Another effect of public instability, is the unreasonable advantage it gives to the sagacious, the enterprising, and the monied few, over the industrious and uninformed mass of the people. Every new regulation concerning commerce or revenue, or in any manner affecting the value of the different species of property, presents a new harvest to those who watch the change, and can trace its consequences; a harvest, reared not by themselves, but by the toils and cares of the great body of their fellow citizens. This is a state of things in which it may be said, with some truth, that laws are made for the few, not for the many.

[More works by James Madison (1751 – 1836) and on The Founding Fathers of the U.S. Constitution]