Besley’s “Principled Agents?” is an attempt to unify a number of diﬀerent principal agent models concerning the political decision maker, government, and voters. He discusses competing views of government and government failures, he analysis the eﬀects of accountability, he analyses the impact of the political agency on public ﬁnance. And he does all this in a way that, I would argue, even an undergraduate would be able to follow and enjoy. He succeeds very well in this attempt to unify the general frame of his analyses.
Another diﬆinctive feature of “Principled Agents?” is that it presents its analyses not only in a uniﬁed frame but it also takes a less extreme approach to the analysis of government than either the Samuelsonian welfare economics or the overly pessimiﬆic public choice approach of Buchanan. Not all government oﬃcials are purely benevolent, not all government oﬃcials follow only their own intereﬆ.
What ﬆopped me in my tracks, however, was his Final Comments. In the Final Comments Besley hints at intereﬆing extensions. Among other things, he implicitly queﬆions the inﬆitution of elections, at leaﬆ for some level and part of government.
Once, the city ﬆates of Athens, Venice, and Florence have used lotteries inﬆead of elections to select their councils. Do elections really select the beﬆ person for the job? Do we need to select “a beﬆ” person for such a position, with the selection always being tainted by imperfection? Should we not rather re-think the duties of the bureaucrat and the politician? Do we want a political elite, diﬆinct from the general population, or do we want to maintain a unity of purpose, an egalitarian access, the wideﬆ possible access to public oﬃce? All queﬆions that, I believe, are worthwhile to think about.