by Paul H. Rubin
February 24, 2014
A concept recently developed in psychology and biology is “pathological altruism.” A pathological altruist is defined as “a person who engages in what he or she intends to be altruistic acts, but who harms the person or group he or she is trying to help, often in unanticipated fashion; or harms others; or becomes a victim of his or her own altruistic actions.” This concept could become an extremely useful tool for public choice economists. There are many public policies that are harmful in one or more of the senses above, and yet which are supported by well-meaning citizens and voters. This concept will help us understand some of the bases of inefficient regulation. In addition, it may enable economists to enlist assistance from other scholars in attacking undesirable legislation. By exploring the inefficient justifications for regulation, it may be possible to create politically useful counterarguments.