I’ve been thinking about what assumptions we should make about the motivations political actors. Clearly their motivations are self-interested, but that self interest isn’t always obvious. Downs posited that politicians were motivated to maximize their chance for re-election, but I think it is clear that is not their only motivation.

In The Economics of Collective Choice (p. 195) I found a good starting point,

Breton (1974) suggested that an elected political supplier [politician] “can be characterized by a utility function defined for a probability of re-election (or election) variable and for variables such as personal pecuniary gains, personal power, his own image in history, the pursuit of lofty personal ideals, his personal view of the common good, and others which are peculiar to each politician”

I think this can be refined somewhat. First, I think this motivational assumption can apply to appointed political actors as well as elected ones. I think of appointees as being elected like other politicians but elected by a different electorate and under different rules (for example, some get life tenure).

Second, the desire for re-election can be decomposed into other motivations, primarily the desire for personal power and the desire for personal pecuniary gains.

Third, I think “personal view of the common good” is largely a synonym for ideology.

Here is how I would state these motivations (arguments to a utility function)

  • desire for material gains and other quality of life gains (family time, for example)
  • desire for power and control over resources and people
  • desire to implement ideology/personal conception of the common good
  • desire for a good historical image
  • desire to think of self as “good person”
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