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Fixing the country

Posted By Russ Roberts On November 18, 2008 @ 8:54 am In Politics | Comments Disabled

From the Guardian [1] (HT: Drudge [2]). Obama talks about working with John McCain:

Obama, speaking before the meeting, said: "We’re going to have a good
conversation about how we can do some work together to fix up the
country." He said he also wanted to thank McCain for his service to the
country.

Yep. The country is like a house. It just needs a new coat of paint, some piering done in the basement and some dry wall replaced. This is the biggest fantasy of politics, that the country is broken or damaged and we just need to get a different contractor in charge of the project who knows more about how to do renovations. It is a dangerous metaphor and an inaccurate one. It ignores the fundamental insight of economics that there are no solutions only trade-offs. It presumes, impossibly, that we share goals as a people when in fact, virtually every government policy benefits one group at the expense of another.

The essence of political action is a compromise over who wins and who loses. The essence of politics is pretending that such actions benefit everyone. So we are told that it is necessary to bail out the auto industry not to benefit a small group of people but rather to save the Midwest or the country or the millions of jobs related to the auto industry or to preserve the industrial base in the name of national security. What is good for GM is usually not good for the nation. It’s good for GM.

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[1] Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/nov/17/hillary-clinton-secretary-of-state

[2] Drudge: http://www.drudgereport.com

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