Dear Dr. Yandle,
Throughout the pandemic, I have been reading more journal articles on Public Choice Theory. I would have to say that now I am a convert. Previously being a layperson who was fond of the Austrian School. While there are many captivating concepts expressed in the Public Choice literature, the concept of Bootleggers and Baptists has so far been my favorite. In my opinion, the depth of your observations in this conceptualization extends beyond oddball coalitions and the transactional aspects of regulation. The Bootlegger and Baptists dynamic provides us with candid commentary on the nature of regulation. Raising the important question of who stands to benefit from this law passing? Making the moral considerations for advocacy of specific law questionable. Does the benefit secured by implementing more safety regulations outweigh the decrease in market competition? As you have mentioned in previous interviews and podcasts, many of these costly measures end up acting as means for established producers to gain greater market share while circumventing anti-trust laws. The smaller businesses simply cannot afford to comply with the new and onerous requirements.
The insights into the self-serving quiddity of regulation aside, conceptually the Bootleggers and Baptists dynamic has been proven to be very versatile. It can be applied to just about any policy position and is applicable even outside the realm of political decision-making. I have seen countless examples of unlikely bedfellows teaming for a shared objective at work. The possibilities for application are seemingly endless and can even be applied to traditionally apolitical institutions.
It is the very versatility of the Bootleggers and Baptists concept that entices me to come up with novel applications of the theory. Leading me to the question why cannot the Bootlegger and Baptist be the same individual or group? An actor can possess multiple motives for the same action, the same could be true for advocacy of various regulations. An individual actor or a group of actors could have a sincere moral concern but also simultaneously stand to gain from the regulation. This is not to say that the ratio of moral concern and self-interest is equal. For the individual actor or group self-interest or moral concern may take primacy over the other set of incentives and motives. If the individual or group provides a moral argument and is concurrently a silent beneficiary, they are both a Bootlegger and a Baptist. Regardless of the degree to which they qualify for either category.
I adorn this potentially novel observation with the title of a “Dual-Role Actor Dynamic”. Whether we examine the advocacy of a single economic agent or the collective action of a group there is the potential of Dual-Role dynamic. Even getting as granular as the level of an individual actor there is the potential for alignment of incentives and motives. In a sense, the individual is combining their self-interest and moral concerns into one action. Expressing an internal agreement between their moral convictions and self-interest. The best analogy that can be made is if the psychoanalytical stratifications of consciousness, the ID and Superego, wherein complete unison. The proverbial devil and angel on our shoulders decided to shake hands signifying a truce. All because our selfish and moral motives are in agreement. In a group setting, the collective action is merely an aggregate of each group member’s own moralistic and selfish inclinations.
Recently, I believe to have found a real-life example of a “Dual-Role Actor Dynamic” in the domain of ballot access laws. After reviewing a few legal papers detailing the issue, I began to realize many of the moral arguments for stringent requirements also were silent beneficiaries. In theory, moral arguments such as shielding voters from frivolous candidacies, confusion, and political instability may be sincere. However, they are being made almost entirely by legislators, bureaucrats, and public officials affiliated with one of the major parties in the United States. Their moral concerns may be merely a thinly veiled-cloak to obscure blatant self-interest. Due to my inability to test the veracity of the sincerity of the invested interests advocating for stricter laws, I will have to take their claims at face value. While these invested interests purportedly feel a duty to protect the voter and maintain the integrity of democracy they still stand to gain. By imposing heavier burdens upon third-party candidates it redirects votes that would go to minor party candidates towards the two major parties. Effectively leaving the political duopoly in the United States intact. Making these advocates potentially Dual-Role Actors.
Dr. Yandle, I am aware you are very busy and most likely have a lot of other projects in the works. That being said, I appreciate you taking the time to read my letter. I understand that I am a far cry from a professional economist, however, any constructive feedback would be greatly appreciated. Even if my expansion of the Bootleggers and Baptists dynamic is conceptually flawed it was still an engaging intellectual exercise to grapple with this idea conceptually.
Thank you again, professor, for your innovative contribution to political economy,
Peter C. Clark.