by Don Boudreaux on May 4, 2006

in Politics

About an "emergency spending bill for Iraq and hurricane recovery," today’s Washington Post reports that members of the so-called "world’s greatest deliberative body" are behaving — are you ready for this? — like politicians.  Yes, like politicians!  Not like wise solons; not like public-spirited leaders; not like courageous and self-sacrificing public servants but, instead, like persons who are skilled principally at being elected to government office and who, once in office, excel at spending goo-gobs of other people’s money wastefully and even harmfully — and then who have the gall to stare into television cameras and insist that they are noble and great and good and inspired and brave and wonderful and vital and that their actions benefit the nation and even humankind.


At the bill’s core is $72 billion in war-related funding and about
$27 billion to aid Hurricane Katrina recovery in Mississippi and
Louisiana. But with November midterm elections approaching, senators
showed little restraint on items that would prove popular with
constituents or important interest groups.

For example, the
legislation includes $4 billion in aid to farmers and ranchers to
offset rising natural gas costs and provide new relief from drought,
floods and wildfires.

If my eight-year-old son behaved as these people behave, I’d punish him severely and work with every sinew of my body and soul, day and night, to rehabilitate him.  And if, at the end of his childhood, I discover that I failed — say, if my son, when he’s grown, aspires to political office — I’ll hang my head in shame knowing that I’ve unleashed on the world someone who is at best a leech.

(Hat tip to FLOW’s Michael Strong.)

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Strophyx May 4, 2006 at 8:32 pm

To paraphrase Ronald Reagan's observation about drunken sailors, that last comment is insulting to leeches. At least they do it in order to survive.

KRM May 5, 2006 at 10:04 am

What if you rehabilitated him AND he ran for office? Let's say he amazingly avoided many of the public choice pitfalls and held onto the moral character you imbued in him. Would this still be discouraging to you? Of course, at the root of this question are theories about social change, but i'd like to hear thoughts.

Note, this is of course assuming constituents voted for someone who wouldn't do much "in their favor". It may be a while off before they do that.

Student May 5, 2006 at 12:36 pm

And people wonder why Libetarians (the "largest" 3rd party in America) consistantly get less than 1% of the vote.

"Oh, I want to change things, but I don't want to dirty my hands with politics. I'll just write about it and maybe someone in power will give a crap."


Don Boudreaux May 5, 2006 at 1:19 pm

Dear Student,

I never, ever suppose that anyone with political power "will give a crap" about anything that I or any other libertarian writes. Government can be restrained not by asking those with power not to exercise it. It can be restrained only if and when those on whom the power would be exercised refuse to submit to the various intrusions and insults that routinely are visited upon ordinary people by politicians and their appointees.

Aaron Krowne May 5, 2006 at 1:31 pm


The fact that Libertarians (and other "third parties") consistently barely rank in the vote is testament more to the spoiler effect than anything else.

Shrill "join the herd" sheep like yourself seem to be unable to accept or comprehend the fundamental flaws of the voting system, and instead come up with spurious rationalizations of imagined cultural deficits in the third parties.

I assure you, any cultural deficit of the Libertarian camp is easily bested by the parties in power.

Joe Calhoun May 5, 2006 at 1:59 pm

The comment by student brings up an interesting question. Since so many individuals identify with libertarian beliefs generically, why can't we get more libertarians elected? We always have a few that fall vaguely in our camp, usually of the Republican libertarian variety, but the libertarian camp is getting pretty sparse among elected officials. In fact, I can't think of one off the top of my head.

Randy May 5, 2006 at 2:26 pm

We are ruled by coalition. Its just that, in the US, the coalitions are formed before the election rather than after.

Steve Podraza May 5, 2006 at 4:01 pm

I've been a libertarian for awhile now and I have to stop and remind myself every now and again what the average joe thinks when he thinks of a third party, as my perspective has become skewed. To most people, all third parties are the same, and they are all crazy. End of story.

Steve Podraza May 5, 2006 at 4:08 pm

Restating my above comment. To the average joe, all legitimate political thought exists by definition within and only within the two major parties. Everyone else MUST be crazy because otherwise they would get more votes. It is as simple as that. People aren't particularly interested in learning what the Libertarian or any third party stands for because they already know it is craziness.

liberty May 5, 2006 at 4:08 pm

>The comment by student brings up an interesting question. Since so many individuals identify with libertarian beliefs generically, why can't we get more libertarians elected?

It has a lot to do with interest groups, I think. What is a libertarian interest group – CATO maybe. Libertarians don't want higher taxes and government spending, so they weild less power. Politicians may start out with ideals and morals, but the current state of corruption eats away at many and others simply cannot get elected without intertwining themselves with thse big-government groups. However there are a few with libertarian agendas:

In order to see change, I believe we need term limits. Corruption and the power of interest groups would be much less if senators had only 6 years in office, and congressmen 4. People are also discussing repeal of the 17th amendment over at RWN:

KRM May 5, 2006 at 4:13 pm

Don, If your comment can be seperated into these two arguments:

(1) Government cannot be restrained by asking those with power not to exercise it.

(2) Government can be restrained only if and when those on the power would be exercised ( i.e. the populace) refuse to submit to the various intrusions and insults that routinely are visited upon ordinary people by politicians and appointees.

can you please explain more what you mean in (2).

Wild Pegasus May 6, 2006 at 2:38 am

"I think the government ought to stop sending checks to your 71 year-old mother" isn't a winning political plank anywhere ever. Yet, you can't talk about liberty without talking about serious entitlement reform, if not outright abolition.

- Josh

save_the_rustbelt May 6, 2006 at 11:06 am

Dumping lots of incumbents is the only medicine.

Probably won't happen.

Thon Brocket May 8, 2006 at 3:32 am

Get used to it. We're never going to fix it, as long as we allow our legislators to both tax and spend. Give them that length of a leash, and they'll abuse it, every time, to get more of the real currency of human affairs: power.

We need separate legislatures to tax and to spend, so that neither the taxers nor the spenders can get elected by bribing us with our own money.

John Dewey May 8, 2006 at 12:57 pm

"Since so many individuals identify with libertarian beliefs generically, why can't we get more libertarians elected?"

I think most libertarian politicians are unable to compromise their principles in order to get elected to even state-wide office. I don't believe many Americans are ready to accept all official Libertarian positions, especially:

- ending drug prohibition;
- repealing all obscenity laws;
- privatizing social security; and
- allowing open immigration.

I'm not offering my opinion on these issues, only making an observation: unlike the two mainstream parties, the Libertarian Party apparently does not wish to occupy a big tent.

Swimmy May 8, 2006 at 10:30 pm

Why can't libertarians get elected? To quote a friend,

". . .between the pure platonic world and the one made out of brick and mortar and statists is this thing called 'reality' that makes incremental steps the only ones that count."

cunts galore June 3, 2008 at 11:41 am

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