Dompter le Léviathan

STANFORD – Une société prospère a besoin d'un gouvernement efficace et peu coûteux pour exercer convenablement ses fonctions, et elle doit disposer des revenus suffisants à l'entretien de ces fonctions. Mais un gouvernement qui devient trop grand, trop centralisé, trop bureaucratique et trop cher, met sensiblement à mal l'économie privée et décourage les initiatives individuelles et les responsabilités. Il nuit en outre aux investissements du secteur privé, à la consommation et aux œuvres de bienfaisance. Et il peut aussi causer du tort aux mesures incitatives par de lourds impôts. Cela risque aussi de nuire à certaines fonctions essentielles au gouvernement, comme par exemple à la défense. Voilà à grands traits un portrait de l'Europe d'aujourd'hui, talonnée de près par les Etats-Unis.

La mort récente de James M. Buchanan, le père de l'économie du choix public, est une occasion de nous pencher sur ses conseils avisés. Buchanan a obtenu le prix Nobel en 1986 pour son étude sur le gouvernement et sur le comportement des représentants du gouvernement. Il les avait analysés avec la même rigueur que les économistes ont longtemps portée sur le domaine des prises de décisions économiques du secteur privé. Buchanan a conclu que la poursuite de l'intérêt personnel des politiciens conduisait inévitablement à des résultats médiocres.

L'analyse de Buchanan était en contraste marqué non seulement par rapport à la maxime d'Adam Smith selon laquelle la poursuite de l'intérêt personnel conduit comme « par une main invisible » à résultats sociaux souhaitables, mais aussi contre l'approche actuelle de l'analyse politique, qui considère le gouvernement comme un planificateur bienveillant, qui met en œuvre des « solutions » clé en main aux défaillances du marché.

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