One problem in assessing public policy is the ease with which people switch away from their own perspective, and the perspectives of their fellow citizens, onto the role of Legislator or Philosopher King, ready to command the State.

The State’s perspective is quite enticing.

Common sense might suggest that simple short cuts to a desired goal can easily be managed merely by establishing a policy, and a governmental system of rewards and punishments. On top of this switched perspective is the philosophical conceit that states are established for the general, public interest, and not for capture by special interests. So every goal, no matter how particular to a specific person or group, we quickly transform in our minds from my end or your end or our end or their end to “the public good,” without much critical thinking at all.

The startling thing is how easy are the mental operations that allow us to do this. I hazard that they are pre-programmed into our brains as part of man’s hierarchical nature, as reinforced by ancient tribal cooperation and the history of military and ecclesiastical practice. But, regardless of my surmise, these operations go on in our head with amazing ease, and — this is the important part — without any need to apply critical thought to the metamorphosis from special to general (shared) interest.

This is aided greatly by both our internal biases and the very core nature of the State in society. What I call the Beneficiary Focus Illusion (existing as an entelechy in our heads) reinforces the perennial structural arrangements (existing as an entelechy within society) that divorce resource acquisition from resource dispersement while coupling dispersed costs to concentrated benefits.

Most people never bother to examine critically the process by which they transform some particular goal into the public interest. Instead, they instinctively apply the given interest “commonsensically” to political governance. From the perspective of the State. Or, uncritically, from their own perspective, or that of their favored group.

See Herbert Spencer, “From Freedom to Bondage,” for a discussion of social processes apparently at odds with “common sense.”

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