I really need to learn more about public choice theory. I am studying economics and am often cynical about our cherished system of elected representation, so it would seem only natural. Churchill was partially right — democracy is better than other forms of government, but there is an even better way for most of the decision-making in society to be conducted, the market. To a large extent, putting more decision-making into private hands would improve this or any country. Some exceptions would be correcting externalities, national defense, and the legal system (though I’m always open to more radical ideas).
What makes majority rule representative of the so-called will of the people? In a close race, almost as many people say no to the candidate or initiative as say yes. The market, though not perfect, gives everyone a real choice — to buy or not to buy.
To use a local example, voters in the Seattle area passed funding for the first phase of Sound Transit, a new regional public transit agency, in 1996. The projects associated with the first phase are now way behind schedule and way over budget, but let’s ignore that for now. The fundamental issue is that it seems to be very difficult to arrive at efficiency through the ballot box. It seems pretty clear to me that the light rail line, whenever it is finally completed, will be a net loss for society. From what I heard while working at the Washington Policy Center (not exactly an unbiased source of information), the line will move too few people for too much money. But perhaps a light rail line is worth it. I don’t care — I harbor no hatred of trains. The point is, if the line were going to be built and operated by a private firm, we would be fairly certain that it was worth it from a social perspective. And if it wasn’t, it would be the investors’ loss, and they wouldn’t be too happy.
Bottom Line: If you value mass transit highly, you will be willing to pay for it. With a market, you only pay if the service is worth it to you at the given price. With public transit, everyone pays for the service regardless of how much they value it.
Here’s some local perspective that pretty much sums up my position on transportation.