La tiranía de la economía política

CAMBRIDGE – Hubo un tiempo en que los economistas manteníamos distancia de la política. Considerábamos que nuestro trabajo era describir el funcionamiento de las economías de mercado, sus fallos y el modo de fomentar la eficiencia mediante un buen diseño de políticas públicas. Analizábamos las tensiones que suele haber entre objetivos contrapuestos (por ejemplo, la equidad y la eficiencia) y prescribíamos políticas para alcanzar los resultados económicos deseados, entre ellos la redistribución. Correspondía a los políticos aceptar (o no) nuestras sugerencias, y a los burócratas implementarlas.

Pero entonces algunos nos volvimos más ambiciosos. Frustrados al ver que muchos de nuestros consejos quedaban desoídos (¡hay tantas soluciones de libre de mercado que todavía aguardan quién las adopte!), volcamos nuestro instrumental analítico a estudiar el comportamiento de esos mismos políticos y burócratas. Comenzamos a examinar la conducta política con el mismo marco conceptual que usamos para analizar las decisiones de consumidores y productores en una economía de mercado. Los políticos se convirtieron en proveedores de favores públicos guiados por el afán de maximización de ingresos; los ciudadanos, en grupos de presión e intereses especiales ávidos de rentas; y los sistemas políticos se convirtieron en mercados donde se negocian votos e influencia política a cambio de beneficios económicos.

Así nació el campo de la elección racional en economía política, y con él, un estilo teórico que pronto sería imitado por muchos politólogos. El beneficio aparente de esta teoría era que permitía explicar por qué las decisiones de los políticos muchas veces no se condicen con la racionalidad económica. En la práctica, cualquier paradoja económica podía ahora explicarse con dos palabras: “intereses creados”.

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