Please, No Politicians In My Family

by Don Boudreaux on January 4, 2008

in Politics

Yesterday’s Iowa caucuses sparked the expected oohhing and aahhing about the glories of modern American democracy — about how “anyone can grow up to become President.”  I sent this letter yesterday to a local DC radio station:

I’m appalled by everyone who called in today expressing hopes that one day one of their children ”might become President of the United States.”

My son, Thomas, is ten.  I hope that he graduates from college and has a satisfying and lucrative career.  But I’d much rather that he be even a janitor or a used-car salesman than become a successful politician.  To succeed at politics - especially at the national level – requires duplicity and shamelessness rivaled only by arrogance.  For my son to become President he would have to abandon nearly every moral precept that his mother and I try hard now to impart to him: honesty, forthrightness, decency, respect for others, and modesty.  We emphatically do not want our son to yearn for power, for to do so would inevitably corrode his humanity.

Thomas, like nearly everyone else in this world, will be fit to rule himself when he is an adult.  He is not, and never will be – again like everyone else – fit to rule others, even if those others elect him to do so.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux

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{ 50 comments }

Lee Kelly January 4, 2008 at 11:03 am

Good stuff.

tw January 4, 2008 at 11:12 am

Your phrase that struck me the most is "fit to rule others." That strike me as the result of a more and more powerful, oppressive federal government…as opposed to a less powerful federal government, where he would only have to be "fit to represent others."

Wojtek January 4, 2008 at 11:16 am

"Representing" A in his attempt to rule B is exactly the same thing as just ruling B yourself. The approval of A is just a pretext democracy aims to create.

Wojtek January 4, 2008 at 11:19 am

What Don is saying, I think, is that his son, like A, is not fit to rule B.

Sunny Molini January 4, 2008 at 12:02 pm

Again with the brilliance!

Should i stop advocating that my friends vote for you Professor? It will take some contemplation for me to do that. Since some of the best leaders in history were those who did not want the responsibility they wielded so brilliantly.

1. good society requires rule of law.
2. law must be written, requiring leaders.
3. the sort person that wants the power to write law writes bad law.

That leaves us with bad law being better than no law. And the only way to get out of that is for to force people to write law who don't want to.

Unless somebody can come up with a rule of law system so adept that it can be left unchanged indefinitely. Requiring no further law writers.

ie. the Constitution?

muirgeo January 4, 2008 at 12:02 pm

That's a real sad commentary. What choices do we have? A ruler or a representative of the people. You have to choose one or the other. In some sense I agree with you because we've allowed the electoral system to be overtaken by the greed of the free market. The results are power hungry greedy leaders… easily corrupted. We are being ruled by money NOT by representatives of the people. Making money is good but it like religion needs to be separated from the state.

The problem is many see money as free speech. Allowing money to influence politics gets you rulers like Bush. When the people and democracy are working we get leaders who represent the people.

A few things that make a person more likely a good leader is coming from meager means, not being a part of a political dynasty and ideally having served in the military. The current system doesn't promote such potential leaders

Will January 4, 2008 at 12:03 pm

Forget Hillary's high negatives, John Edwards is the most repulsive candidate to mean.

His rhetoric last night bordered on paranoid when he discusssed "corporate greed" and "taking back washington" from being reliant on money. It's genuinely sad that culture has taken such a populist misnomer.

tiger January 4, 2008 at 12:06 pm

Don, I'm not sure if your are just cynical beyond belief or suffering from "hyper-libertarianism". Either way, our system of government is designed to have a president and commander in chief-and, as you have pointed out to others about our country's economic success with a capitalist system and not relative failure, it generally works pretty well. As a manager I have to pander, compromise and be pretty arrogant in making my decisions to but that's just the way it works.

Franz January 4, 2008 at 12:23 pm

Don, you've obviously never heard of Ron Paul.

G January 4, 2008 at 12:26 pm

Well said, Don.

Sunny, given that the name of this blog is Cafe Hayek, I'm going to go out on a limb and say Don does not believe law is written. Legislation is written, while law evolves.

Does anyone else find the situation we are in very odd? People actually defend the people and institutions who would violently attack them or their property for no good reason. Maybe these attitudes are just ingrained in our brains by genetics.

muirgeo is at least either confused (greed never existed before markets, huh?), or just trolling.

Billy January 4, 2008 at 12:55 pm

Muirgeo, money is not only definitely speech; it's the most reliable kind of speech. The less a message costs, the less discrimnating people are when deciding to back that message.

Adam January 4, 2008 at 1:28 pm

"I agree with you because we've allowed the electoral system to be overtaken by the greed of the free market. The results are power hungry greedy leaders… easily corrupted. We are being ruled by money NOT by representatives of the people. Making money is good but it like religion needs to be separated from the state.

"The problem is many see money as free speech. Allowing money to influence politics gets you rulers like Bush. When the people and democracy are working we get leaders who represent the people."

This is just a bizarre statement. First, the reason it costs a lot of money to run for office is because the US is the 4th largest country in the world, with a population of over 300 million. It costs a lot of money to cover that territory and reach that many people. The smaller the election, the less its cost. Decentralization is the only real way to reduce the importance of money in politics.

That said, the idea behind those statements is probably that spending limits, public funding, etc. are a good idea. I can't find any such study with a quick Google search, but there must be a political scientist out there who's published a paper on the relationship between the level of campaign finance regulation and the level of satisfaction with politicians. I'd be shocked if there was any causal link between those two (except maybe in the other direction; people call for spending limits when they become cynical, thinking it will help solve the problem).

I also somehow doubt that the modern-day United States is the only example of a place in which "power hungry leaders" exist. I'd love to hear of any place, at any time in which rulers were generally not considered to be "power hungry."

Per Kurowski January 4, 2008 at 2:48 pm

Either this is one of the saddest commentaries I have ever read or I just don’t get it.

Here is a professor telling us that our future governments are going to be so irreversibly corrupt and power hungry so that you must be irreversibly corrupt an power-hungry to even aspire a leadership so that he does not wish his son and presumably his students even getting close to politics. Is it so? Pure innocence and complete humanity is what reigns in the university?

Of course I could never be able to guarantee that any of my daughters would be fit to rule others but I swear that I sincerely believe that my wife and me have been able to make them better to rule others than most of those out there ruling others and I most definitely hope that all fathers and professors also see this as their mission, even if prima facie it could qualify as mission impossible.

Do you just sit back and relax until hugo-chavezes take over the world?

Jon January 4, 2008 at 3:03 pm

EVERYONE!

Stop feeding the troll.

Muirgeo is out of his cage again I see.

Lenny January 4, 2008 at 4:30 pm

To those who acknowledge a Creator it can be pointed out that He did not create us with the intention that we would “rule over” one another. The fact that we have a desire to do so is a corruption of the original design.

Many people seem to believe that the more enlightened persons have a duty to rule over the less enlightened persons; to save them from themselves among other reasons. I would argue that Don places himself in the category of “more enlightened” by his recognition that this desire to rule over other persons is a dysfunction that is best avoided.

Those who argue that people need to be ruled over are either misusing or misunderstanding the notion of ruling or have yet to come to a maturity of thought that allows them to see the inherent evil of this. To some this will seem an arrogant statement – so be it.

Martin Brock January 4, 2008 at 4:42 pm

Me too, Don.

mcwop January 4, 2008 at 5:03 pm

The problem is a lack of rule of law that constrains politicians. Similar to the Underpants Gnomes on South Park, most politicians operate as follows:

1. Take more taxes or deficit spend more to create government programs
2. ?
3. Get reelected in the name of creating new government programs

The Iraq war was a total failure of constraints. The law should require a super majority in both houses to wage any war, not an open ended resolution.

Tax collections should be restricted to a % of GDP, and spending as well, thus hopefully forcing Government to spend it wisely not just keep piling it on.

nordsieck January 4, 2008 at 5:04 pm

Adam: democrats, in general support campaign finance caps, in part, because they, unlike the republicans, have historically relied upon unionized workers as campaign volunteers and were never as vulnerable to things like per person contribution caps, or campaign finance "reform" in general. My guess is that the situation would be reversed, if campaigns were forced/asked to report volunteer hours at minimum wage, although enforcement, like with current contributions is problematic.

muirgeo January 4, 2008 at 6:31 pm

Stop feeding the troll.

Muirgeo is out of his cage again I see.

Posted by: Jon

Jon.

You best get use to trolls like me because based on the Iowa turn out there's a tidal wave of us gunning to take our country back.

muirgeo January 4, 2008 at 6:38 pm

His rhetoric last night bordered on paranoid when he discusssed "corporate greed" and "taking back washington" from being reliant on money. It's genuinely sad that culture has taken such a populist misnomer.

Posted by: Will

Will,

It's not paranoia when thy really are out to get you. Hard working Americans are sick of people with money buying politicians, tilting the table in their favor and usurping democracy.

What money is doing to our markets and are democracy is a shame. How people like yourself see no problem blows me away. I can't figure what you stand for. Its not free markets, its not diffusion of power, it's not democracy, it's not self reliance or personal responsibility, it's not small government …. so what the heck is it?

M. Hodak January 4, 2008 at 6:50 pm

"2. law must be written, requiring leaders.
3. the sort person that wants the power to write law writes bad law."

The second premise is not necessarily true. All you need is a mechanism for selecting legislators that doesn't rely on power lust, e.g., selection by lot. It works pretty well with jurors, who collectively wield at least as much power as congressmen or assemblymen.

muirgeo January 4, 2008 at 7:33 pm

Muirgeo, money is not only definitely speech; it's the most reliable kind of speech.

Posted by: Billy

Billy you're free to believe what you want. But to most, money in politics is all about bribery, influence peddling and coercion.
Bill Gates has just has much right to e-mail, write, call or talk directly to politicians as I do and no more.

Calling money "free-speech" is as Orwellian as claiming some people are more equal then others.

Sam Grove January 4, 2008 at 8:10 pm

you because we've allowed the electoral system to be overtaken by the greed of the free market.

Strawman.

Muigeo, the more you write the lower my estimation of you.

Why do you come around here?

Mark Seery January 4, 2008 at 8:47 pm

Don's comments raise the question: what would the world be like if there were a) no politicians and/or b) no government. Each could be separate scenarios, i.e. it is possible to have government without politicians, but not sure it is possible to have politicians without government.

Have these scenarios already been written about (in the context of populations of the current size)?

SheetWise January 4, 2008 at 10:28 pm

It costs a lot of money to cover that territory and reach that many people. The smaller the election, the less its cost. Decentralization is the only real way to reduce the importance of money in politics.

Money will always be a part of politics — and centralization is an illusion.

I helped a retired friend run for city council several years ago. Under election laws, contributions were limited to about $350 — and his personal (personal and family) to about $10,000. He put in the full $10K, and the rest was raised in contributions averaging $50 all the way up to election day. He spent every dime, got elected, and the campaign still owed him $10k.

Four years later — he's up for re-election. The campaign coffers are full — he's been repaid his $10k — and almost all contributions are for the full legal limit. This is six months before the election.

Money is always going to be important. For all the wrong reasons.

Christopher Rasch January 4, 2008 at 10:54 pm

Hi Don,

I think this is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you discourage honest, liberty-loving individuals from entering politics, how do you expect political institutions to change for the better? Societal collapse? Violent revolution? It seems unlikely that the state will whither away from benign neglect.

SheetWise January 4, 2008 at 11:50 pm

If you discourage honest, liberty-loving individuals from entering politics, how do you expect political institutions to change for the better?

If you discourage honest, liberty-loving individuals from becoming thieves, how do you expect thieves to change for the better?

brotio January 5, 2008 at 12:11 am

I think it's hilarious that Murthaduck ("the children they've killed in cold blood") believes that money corrupts politicians, but wants to give them another half-trillion or so dollars a year (in the form of the US health care system) to corrupt, just so Murthaduck won't have to pay for a colonoscopy itself.

Billy January 5, 2008 at 12:32 am

But to most, money in politics is all about bribery, influence peddling and coercion.
Bill Gates has just has much right to e-mail, write, call or talk directly to politicians as I do and no more.

What "most" believe has no bearing on what it actually is. You're right about you and Gates. You both have, ideally at least, an unrestricted right to do so. Yours is just more limited by your means than his. There's nothing Orwellian about recognizing that spending conveys a message, and a more reliable one than mere words, at that. Ever tell anyone to put his money where his mouth is?

Have you figured out yet how giving more power to government is going to cure corruption in government?

Unit January 5, 2008 at 2:02 am

The clearest example of why money=free-speech is the case of Oprah's support of Obama. She gives him her time (which is quite valuable) and goes out to speak about his campaign. That's fine with me, but if the law was to limit contributions to say 350 dollars, one would then have to compute how much of Oprah's time corresponds to 350 dollars (10 minutes?) and that's all the time she would have to "freely" speak about Obama.

Russ Nelson January 5, 2008 at 3:39 am

muirgeo is correct! We need a Contitutional amendment guaranteeing the freedom of trade. With Congress prohibited from controlling businesses, businesses will not be able to profit from buying Congresscritters. Many sources of corruption will disappear. It's a brilliant plan, muirgeo. Thank you for suggesting it.

brotio January 5, 2008 at 4:21 am

Russ Nelson,

Thanks! Now I can go to sleep with a smile on my face :)

Gil January 5, 2008 at 5:00 am

I'm not sure if I agree from muirgeo argues from but as far as I'm concerned there are really two choices – Monarchy and Democracy. Actually Democracy is based on the notion that no one person should have unlimited power and rulers can be displaced as a matter of course. However I agree others who point out of the shortcomings of what really goes on in modern Democracies and it isn't very reassuring. But I don't really see how a Monarchy is really that crash hot either. Some family owns heap of land, they get to make the rules, other people rent some land and abide by the rules, if they don't like they can leave . . .

jomama January 5, 2008 at 7:30 am

Bravo, Don.

Ruling is a dirty job that only attracts more
dirt. My kids will not soil their hands on it
either.

Not to worry tho. Soon, no one but the
absolute worst will want to go there.

http://djomama.blogspot.com/2006/12/first-world-government-junk-bonds-on.html

John Reed January 5, 2008 at 9:15 am

Could someone suggest HOW we could get from a million (billion ?) page legislated law to an evolved law?
The fact that none of us has read or knows about the millions of rules that have been legislated, yet manage to live good decent lives is a fairly good indication that the legislation is only marginally useful (not to say necessary).
Perhaps getting everyone to feel the same way Don does about politicians would evolve the system in the direction of less legislation and more scope for unregulated action.

Russ Nelson January 5, 2008 at 9:36 am

Gil, there is a huge latitude in freedom in the description you give for democracy. For example in the us, you can go into most businesses with no government approval. In oother countries, a license is needed.

Randy January 5, 2008 at 9:53 am

Billy,

"…money is not only definitely speech; it's the most reliable kind of speech. The less a message costs, the less discrimnating people are when deciding to back that message."

Good point!

Muirgeo,

The problem with your position on money in the political system is that you are not viewing the problem with sufficient perspective. The big problem is that a political system, any political system, only exists because there is money to be made. A political system exists to profit through the exploitation of the non-political by the political class. So your proposal is to take away ordinary people's right to defend themselves against the aggression of the political class. Using money to influence the political class is the only effective weapon that ordinary people have. Its a damn shame that they are forced to use their earnings to defend themselves, and now you want to take away their right to do so.

vidyohs January 5, 2008 at 11:04 am

Brotio,
LOL.
muirduck does his own colonoscopy and has done so for long that vasoline for his head is no longer necessary. The man is on intimate eye ball relationship with his own prostrate.

He carries the description "caveman" to a whole new plane.

muirgeo January 5, 2008 at 11:15 am

So Randy should Bill Gates be able to walk up to a senator and offer $1,000,000 if he passes some bill that makes MAC's less competitive?

How about a pharmaceutical lobbyist funneling money to congressman to get the Medicare D drug bill passed with a no-compete law?

Are these examples of the free market?

Because if these are examples of the free market and proper use of the government then you have no right to complain of ANY legislation that politicians pass. It's no different if hundreds of thousands of people each give their congressmen $1 dollar each to pass a new tax law that increases progressivity or to get national health care.

raja_r January 5, 2008 at 11:56 am

…..if he passes some bill that makes MAC's less competitive?

…..funneling money to congressman to get the Medicare D drug bill passed with a no-compete law

Are these examples of the free market?

Although I'm sure you've been given this answer a hundred times in this forum, here it is again. In a truly free market:

- a senator will not have the power to make Macs less or more expensive.

- govt. will not be running a Medicare program that funnels money into big pharma.

Let's see if you manage to understand this simple idea this time.

Randy January 5, 2008 at 1:01 pm

Murigeo,

Re; "…should Bill Gates be able to walk up to a senator and offer $1,000,000 if he passes some bill that makes MAC's less competitive?

I'd say that a person of integrity would avoid all dealings with the political class except for self defense. The amount of money involved is irrelevant. Mr. Gates giving millions, or a party member giving a single dollar, if done for the purpose of profiting via the exploitation of the non-political class, makes both members of the political class. Of course, in an environment where the best way to get ahead is to become a member of the political class, it is to be expected that a large percentage of society will first abandon integrity, and then eventually, to maintain their self respect, rationalize that being a member of the political class is a thing of value and an element of integrity.

muirgeo January 5, 2008 at 3:54 pm

In a truly free market:

- a senator will not have the power to make Macs less or more expensive.

- govt. will not be running a Medicare program that funnels money into big pharma.

Let's see if you manage to understand this simple idea this time.
Posted by: raja_r

Raja,

We are not talking about your make-believe-world. We are talking abut the real world were no such thing as a free market exists.

The question is money free speech… the answer is NO when its used directly to influence elections and policy. America gets that. You don't. The next elections will show you that democracy supersedes and dictates how markets will work.

The economy exist for the people and NOT the other way around. Since there is no such thing as a free market and since we don't have the libertarian government you want most Americans would agree that money is NOT free speech and its influence needs to be kept out of politics. Thus, in summation, your simple idea is irrelevant and doesn't address the issue of money, free speech and politics.

brotio January 5, 2008 at 3:54 pm

LMAO @ "He carries the description "caveman" to a whole new plane." – Vidyohs

Vidyohs,
Thanks for helping me start the day with a laugh!

muirgeo January 5, 2008 at 4:01 pm

I'd say that a person of integrity would avoid all dealings with the political class except for self defense.

Posted by: Randy

Randy,

Do I need to remind you that there are lots of people with no integrity but lots of money? That's why there needs to be laws with big penalties for the donors and the politicians who sell out our democracy for personal gain.

But of course you're a libertarian who wants a self organized system so you don't want laws you just want people of integrity not to take advantage of your open system…… you don't see a problem with human nature and your view of utopia? It's pie-in-the-sky Randy. What you want doesn't work. The next best thing is good laws made by politicians directly accountable to the people. That's almost what we have and it works pretty good.

Randy January 5, 2008 at 6:42 pm

Muirgeo,

"Do I need to remind you that there are lots of people with no integrity but lots of money? That's why there needs to be laws…"

Of course… and lots of people with no integrity and not a lot of money. I think that there need to be laws against the use of politics to exploit the non-political.

"…you don't want laws you just want people of integrity not to take advantage of your open system…"

There is no such thing as a person of integrity who takes advantage. A person of integrity believes in free exchange of value for value. What I want is for the political class to stop exploiting the non-political. That is, I want a mostly voluntary government.

"What you want doesn't work. The next best thing is good laws made by politicians directly accountable to the people. That's almost what we have and it works pretty good."

Non-democratic forms of government are openly exploitive. In a monarchy, one clearly understands who is collecting the rent and who is paying it – that is, who are the owners and who are the tenants. Democratic forms of government are still exploitive, they just spend a lot more on propaganda to confuse the issue as to who the owners and tenants are. This is not a place where "the people" are the owners, its just a place where a lot of investment is made in getting "the people" to believe that they are the owners. Does it work pretty good? Yes it does. The people seldom complain, and if they do complain they complain about the people that the owners want them to complain about rather than the owners themselves, and of course, the rents just keep pouring in to the political class.

Unit January 5, 2008 at 8:26 pm

Trying to keep money out of politics is like trying to stop the rain with one's bare hands, talk about utopia!

Maybe Muirgeo would like to move to Venezuela? where Chavez seems to want to get money out of "daily life"?

In fact, the political system is a lot like the free market, but it's a 'pork' market. There's a demand for 'pork' and a supply of 'pork'. The demand continually soars because the demanders don't individually pay, while the supply stays pretty much stable. As a result both quantity and cost of pork shoot up.

mark seery January 5, 2008 at 8:37 pm

"Trying to keep money out of politics is like trying to stop the rain with one's bare hands…"

Maybe in fact worse than that. There was a time when there was no money in sport. Sport was virtuous. It was not tainted by money. The only problem was that the only people that could afford to participate in any serious way were those that already had much money. This is why professional sports is so loved by the "working" class. Those that are old enough remember why professional sport was such an innovation. With money comes the incentive to cheat. No question. But the alternative is worse – an effective denial of franchise. Professional activities provide the means by which those that do not already have the luxury of leisure can pursue things which are important to them.

Gil January 5, 2008 at 11:07 pm

The sports analogy is similarly to the Democracy/Monarchy dilemma. In Democracy the average person has a chance to have their say even if the system is prone to corruption. In Monarchies there is no similar corruption because it's a privately owned estate and the owners can do whatever they want. Yet in Monarchies the average person has no say. It hard to see why average people would go back to an anonymous system even if it is deemed more 'honest' and compatible with Libertarian values of private ownership.

Adam January 6, 2008 at 12:21 am

"The economy exist for the people and NOT the other way around."

This comments reflects a serious misunderstanding of what "the economy" is. The economy isn't a product of human design or the result of conscious, deliberate planning to create "an economy." What we refer to when we refer to "the economy" is the behaviour of individuals as they produce wealth and exchange it with others. The economy cannot exist without people, but neither can people exist (except as hermits who do not interact) without an economy.

Frederick Davies January 6, 2008 at 9:09 am

I would agree with Mr Boudreaux if it was not for the fact that if all those who possess "honesty, forthrightness, decency, respect for others, and modesty" decide not to enter politics, we are going to end up governed by the worst examples society can produce. His position may be very honourable (and probably right), but I would rather have honest people (and I bet his son will end up more economically-literate than your average Joe) try to rule us (even if it corrupts them in the end) than leave government to the dishonest (and economically illiterate). Government is too important to be left to others.

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