It’s What They Do

by Don Boudreaux on August 19, 2011

in Politics, Reality Is Not Optional, Self-deception

Here’s a letter to the Washington Post:

Charles Krauthammer criticizes Pres. Obama for serving Americans nearly three years of lies, half-truths, ruses, and excuses (“Bad luck? Bad faith?” Aug. 19).  These criticisms are justified.  But Mr. Obama is not unique.  Expertise at fraud and passing-the-buck is part of the job description.  As Will Durant noted, “it is a lesson of history that men lie most when they govern states.”

We are destined to suffer the insults and ill-consequences of such deception and excuse-making as long as holding high political office is attractive – which is to say, as long we continue to give such frauds power over our purses and our lives, and to regard the exercise of such power as an honorable occupation.

Donald J. Boudreaux

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Martin Brock August 19, 2011 at 9:03 am

The dishonesty of political talking heads (including Obama and neo-conmen like Krauthammer) is matched only by their hypocrisy.

veritasrex August 19, 2011 at 9:56 am

I would imagine all of the talking heads know this but they have every incentive in the world to perpetuate the myth that “we” are the trustworthy and truthful guy and the other party is pernicious and full of lies. If vast numbers of americans were convinced of the truth, those talking heads would no longer have an audience, including Krauthammer.

vidyohs August 19, 2011 at 10:08 am

Let’s be honest, any leftist politician or leftist social leader can make any claim, cast any aspersion, tell any lie, or slime any opponent to the right, no matter how base, unproven, or even practically or physical possible, and the MSM will pick it up, broadcast it, and perpetuate it as valid; finally the MSM and every other leftist politician or leftist social leader will repeat as truth even though they have only heard the words and know nothing about the reality.

That is just a fact. If you’re in opposition to the leftist in any thing, any facet of human existence, you must expect to be smeared in any way your opponent can find possible.

As to treating politicians like little gods or godlets, it galls me to my marrow to hear people applaud their representative when he/she walks into a room. The person is damn servant for Christ’s sake and should be treated as such. No town hall meeting should have the representative sitting up on a podium, he should be forced to sit in a child’s school desk low to the floor and every one else in the meeting be standing looking down on him.

There is nothing wrong with treating your servant, waiter, employee with respect if he/she is doing their job with professionalism and is effective at it.

To fawn over the neighbor we send to congress as suddenly becoming a superior little godlet is nothing but contrary to everything I ever learned in leadership or as an employer.

Invisible Backhand August 19, 2011 at 11:47 am

Hyperbole much?

Sam August 19, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Seems you missed Don’s point about the fact that ANY politician is apt to do this, not just those on the left. In fact, the GOP is, if anything, far more duplicitous as they regularly claim to be better than the left on this point.

vidyohs August 19, 2011 at 4:57 pm

I didn’t miss Don’s point at all. I am not required to address just his point, and chose to address his post in my own inimitable fashion, thank you very much.

And I also don’t care about your opinion of GOP politicians, I didn’t ask for it nor do I believe it to be correct. Most of what you know about GOP politicians was implanted into your memory by leftist teachers/professors and abetted by a sycophant MSM, and since, as leftist, they can’t tell a truth what you have is a lie.

No one but no one beats the leftist for vileness and nothing beats the MSM for promoting any vile things spoken or written by a leftist.

I think GOP politicians are a very distant second to the looney left for vile.

Invisible Backhand August 19, 2011 at 9:38 pm

If they are that bad, why don’t you kill some?

Sam Grove August 19, 2011 at 10:49 am

When the tribe gets large enough, the wise leader is pushed aside in favor of the sociopath.

SweetLiberty August 19, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Yeah, but the sociopaths in power are considered wise by many – that’s the scary part of central planners.

Ed Cabaniss August 19, 2011 at 10:57 am

Being anti-A does not mean I am pro-B. As a matter of fact, as of now the only thing I am pro is pro-NOTA.

Russ Nelson August 19, 2011 at 11:17 am

MSM, vidyohs? Don’t you mean LSM — Left of Stream Media?

vidyohs August 19, 2011 at 5:26 pm

A rose, a rose, by any other name should smell so sweet. Wm Sksp

Pete August 19, 2011 at 11:36 am

vidyohs: On the one hand, I agree. My representative is supposed to do my bidding, so let’s keep the hierarchy correct.

On the other hand, the politicians, I’ve voted for (as opposed to voting for the lesser of two evils) got my vote because I did have great respect for his or her intelligence and abilities. Applause is a sign of that respect and I see nothing wrong with that. But you’re right, it shouldn’t be hero worship. This person is doing an important job, nothing more, nothing less.

vidyohs August 19, 2011 at 5:14 pm

Do you applaud your lawn maintenance crew, the checkout lady at Walmart, the guy that changes your oil, etc. et. al. Respect for intelligence and abilities? Do you stop and applaud the engineers you see alongside the highway as they direct or consult with the construction foreman? Has your representative earned your respect through his job performance or has he come to make excuses for why he hasn ‘t accomplished a damn thing?

If you could afford them, would you applaud the abilities your intelligent cook, intelligent maid, intelligent gardener, intelligent chauffeur, intelligent butler, intelligent accountant, the CEO of your industries, the foreman on the floor of the plant?

You can show respect for your representative by letting him live to go out the door and back to work. You can show respect by not throwing tomatoes at him. As his employer you can show respect for him by addressing him and giving him instructions in a courteous manner.

The moment you applaud him, you elevate him to a plateau, that historical odds are, his position and performance does not warrant.

Now if came to a meeting and announced that due to his drafting the bill, and his tireless political persuasion, Affirmative action will be overturned, you might applaud him for that effort; but, you’d be wise to pat him on the back tell him to now go back and find some way to shut down the Fed. Don’t allow him to bask in applause for the rest of his life on a one time accomplishment.

DG Lesvic August 19, 2011 at 11:55 am

Intellectuals complaining about politicians being liars and libertarians about liberals is really the pot calling the kettle black.

Human beings are liars.

Never more than when they are politicians?

Never more than when they are human.

SweetLiberty August 19, 2011 at 12:15 pm

That all human beings lie is not to say that all human beings lie equally. Certainly you recognize that hyperbole, misdirection, and half-truths are key skill sets for most politicians, do you not? These traits make taking the baby step to actual lies that much easier. More so than many professions I would wager.

Don Boudreaux August 19, 2011 at 12:16 pm

You’re lying!

Michael August 19, 2011 at 12:23 pm


Richard Stands August 19, 2011 at 12:54 pm
DG Lesvic August 19, 2011 at 11:57 am

Vid wrote,

“Let’s be honest, any leftist politician or leftist social leader can make any claim, cast any aspersion, tell any lie, or slime any opponent to the right, no matter how base, unproven, or even practically or physical possible, and the MSM will pick it up, broadcast it, and perpetuate it as valid; finally the MSM and every other leftist politician or leftist social leader will repeat as truth even though they have only heard the words and know nothing about the reality.”

Sounds just like good old Cafe Hayek.

W.E. Heasley August 19, 2011 at 12:07 pm

“…as long we continue to give such frauds power over our purses and our lives, and to regard the exercise of such power as an honorable occupation”. – Don Boudreaux

In the land of perpetual economic fallacy, its always “before breakfast“ with the White Queen.

Economiser August 19, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Jam yesterday, and jam to-morrow, but never jam today.

emerson August 19, 2011 at 12:19 pm

I would imagine Don has already posted this Mencken quotation from his essay “On Being an American,” but it bears repeating:

“[T]he will to worship never flags. Ten iron-molders meet in a back-room of a near-beer saloon, organize a lodge of the Noble Mystic Order of American Rosicrucians, and elect a wheelwright Supreme Worthy Whimwham; a month later they send a notice to the local newspapers that they have been greatly honored by an official visit from that Whimwham, and that they plan to give him a jeweled fob for his watch-chain. The chief national heroes—Lincoln, Lee, and so on cannot remain mere men. The mysticism of the medieval peasantry gets into the communal view of them, and they begin to sprout haloes and wings. “

SweetLiberty August 19, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Makes me want a jeweled fob.

vidyohs August 19, 2011 at 5:17 pm

Who has a watch to fob, these days?

Jameson August 19, 2011 at 12:20 pm

I think this is a bit overstated. I doubt Obama is a “fraud” in the sense that his sole motivation is power-grabbing. I honestly believe that he desires to help the country. What the libertarian ought to be stressing more is how even the best and most idealistic of us will utterly fail as leaders, so long as leadership requires managing the affairs of the nation’s citizens.

Don Boudreaux August 19, 2011 at 12:23 pm

You are far more optimistic than I am about people’s motivations – especially the motivations of people who rise to the top of a process that requires, all along the way, duplicity and deception.

SweetLiberty August 19, 2011 at 12:51 pm

“…it takes two to lie. One to lie and one to listen.” – Homer Simpson

snkl August 19, 2011 at 1:09 pm

Endogeneity plays a key role here: the listener elects the lier. Similarly, why would fiscally imprudent people elect fiscally prudent politicians.

Friend of Freedom August 19, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Mr. Boudreaux,

And what is your solution?

How do men govern themselves when they are fallible and weak?

With profound respect and appreciation,

Friend of Freedom

Greg Webb August 19, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Friend, there is no perfect solution. The best idea is the Madisonian idea of Constitutionally-limited representative government. The primary problem with this idea, as Benjamin Franklin warned, is that you have to work to keep government inside its Constitutional limits. Progressives let the genie out of the bottle during world war and with promises that experts could create heaven here on earth, otherwise known as Utopia. It is time to put government back inside its Constitutionally-proscribed bottle.

Don Boudreaux August 19, 2011 at 2:16 pm

Friend of Freedom,

My answer is similar to Greg’s. I summarize it by saying that we ought to keep decision-making as decentralized and as voluntary (that is, as uncoerced) as possible.

Heaven on earth isn’t remotely a possibility, now or ever.

Economiser August 19, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Although, if a person from the pre-industrial age were transported to modern-day America, wouldn’t the remarkable standard of living we enjoy appear to him to be heaven on earth?

Greg Webb August 19, 2011 at 2:54 pm

He or she would be impressed with how technology has greatly improved our lives. But, he or she would easily recognize our applause-seeking politicians.

Economiser August 19, 2011 at 7:57 pm

I expect that a pre-industrial person would be beyond impressed. As Arthur C. Clarke put it, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinugishable from magic.

Also, I use the male pronoun “he” above not out of any disrespect to our female Cafe patrons. I find the politically correct “he or she” to be cumbersome. It interrupts the natural flow of a sentence. I hope the women here are thick-skinned enough to not take offense.

vidyohs August 19, 2011 at 5:24 pm

Why worry about the fallible and weak, self styled leaders do not typically come from this group, and if we let nature take its course the fallible and weak would soon be dead. (Natural selection)

Worry instead about the cocksure and strong, it is harder to be self governing when the cocksure and strong are in great numbers.

yet another Dave August 19, 2011 at 5:28 pm

aren’t you Tired?

vidyohs August 19, 2011 at 7:05 pm

Absolutely, it’s a brutal job, but someone has to do it.

vikingvista August 19, 2011 at 9:15 pm

You think it better that fallible and weak men govern others?

Richard Stands August 19, 2011 at 1:33 pm

Politicians must be seen as wise and infallible to retain power.

Such evaluations are traditional and pervasive. This perspective is so ingrained that it’s quite normal to rhetorically refer to these jobs as “high political office”, and the employees who hold them as “leaders”. Politicians and candidates who debate each other often criticize their opponent’s “leadership”.

In a “free country” constituted by “we the people”, perhaps we need fewer liars posing as “leaders” and more honest men defending liberty.

DG Lesvic August 19, 2011 at 1:52 pm

Honesty, like charity, begins at home.

People hiding behind brick walls shouldn’t lead with a glass chin.

DG Lesvic August 19, 2011 at 2:08 pm

I’ll be impressed by all this concern for honesty when I get an apology for the slander to which I have been subjected here or even just one person other than myself objecting to it, and anything more than that the slanderer was a valuable contributor here and I was merely someone to be tolerated.

SweetLiberty August 19, 2011 at 3:15 pm

The arrogant, dismissive and snarky nature of the blogosphere is ubiquitous. A ridiculing quip is reinforced with accolades from those who share the view of the writer. I’m as guilty as many for using sarcasm to highlight a position I find intolerable. However, I try to draw a personal line at name calling (witness the twit/twat exchange in the last Freedom for Surrogates post). Two involved in the exchange proved in a back-and-forth discussion with me that they are capable of civil discourse without it degrading into abusive ad hominem attacks. Why treat me different than Invisible Backhand? I don’t know – but I appreciate that they did and I’ve come closer to seeing their points and perspective because of it.

Many people debate to win – never conceding an opponent’s point or acknowledging their own reservations for fear it might make their position seem weaker. I personally debate to test the merits of a position and examine it as honestly as I can, including recognizing and declaring my own biases and concerns. But one must also develop a thick skin when posting a position, knowing that many who disagree will berate you for even thinking such heresy. Libertarians are generally a very rugged, individualistic lot (by definition – otherwise they wouldn’t be libertarians), but they are often marginalized or completely ignored in the greater society (witness John Stewart’s piece on how many pundits completely ignored Ron Paul’s close 2nd place finish to Bachman in the Iowa straw poll). Perhaps it’s ironic that, when libertarians congregate together in a forum such as offered at Cafe Hayek they too ignore or dismiss other ideas so readily, or perhaps it is a form of payback – I don’t know. But if you have an honest opinion or position that you are willing to explore (and not mindlessly defend), I for one welcome such insights – if nothing else for the opportunity to examine how you formed your premise and why.

I won’t apologize for the behavior of others, but I will apologize to any who I may have offended by being overly assertive or snarky and offer them an olive branch. There is sometimes a fine line between witty and insulting, and I will do my part to stay on the witty side of the fence.

DG Lesvic August 19, 2011 at 4:57 pm

Sweet Liberty,

For my part, I have never objected to, never minded, and even enjoyed it when it was merely my intelligence, learning, and even sanity that were impugned. But when someone casts aspersions on my character and honor, turns logic upside down in order to do so, and nobody else condemns it, nay, when the slanderer is hailed as a valuable contributor here and I as a detraction merely to be tolerated, I lose respect for the Cafe. Sadly, as I had held it in the highest esteem. I wish I could still do so.

Richard Stands August 19, 2011 at 4:52 pm

Anonymity while posting blog comments is both sword and shield.

It’s a shield for those who only choose to share their ideas or questions, but not their person or life, with the boundless audience of the web.

It’s a sword for those who use it to feel freer to attack others with objurgations and snark. People make attacks online that they would never dream of when face to face – much like drivers can respond with rage from the anonymity of their cars. There are far fewer cases of “pedestrian rage”.

But whether anonymous or not, civility more likely breeds civility, and snark more likely breeds snark.

SweetLiberty August 19, 2011 at 5:29 pm

True dat.

brotio August 20, 2011 at 12:17 am

@ DG,


I object.

Now, will you get back to making the relevant and insightful comments that make you a valuable contributor here, instead of being merely someone to be tolerated?

DG Lesvic August 20, 2011 at 1:50 am

No! I’d rather just bitch.

DG Lesvic August 19, 2011 at 7:18 pm

In the Wall Street Journal this morning, Stephen Moore quoted Prof Boudreaux and referred to Cafe Hayek as “the invaluable blog.”

That’s right. It’s still the best. I still respect and value it.

Just not as much as before.

Explaining Why Americans Hate Economics, Mr Moore ddin’t even come close. His explanation: they hate the bizarro, anti-economics, economics on its head of the Keynesian macro crowd.

As Bagehot observed, “Political Economy was indeed the favourite subject in England from about 1810 to 1840″ but by 1895 “lies rather dead in the public mind.”

And, from the summary of my book, “As the introduction of mathematics into economics and of redistribution into public affairs have been the twin roots of all political evil over the last hundred years, their expulsion will be the twin roots of redemption. But it will not be achieved by Libertarianism and the Austrian School of Economics. They are terminally sclerotic and have gone as far as they can go. The task has fallen to a new generation and vanguard of libertly, Voluntarism and No School Economics.

The problem began with the failure to resolve the problem of “distribution,” from the time of Mill, the introduction of mathematics into economics, from the time of Marshall, and the ultimate professionalization of economics, and simply the old age of liberalism known as libertarianism.

The best you old folks can do is hold the intellectual line. But the real breakthroughs that are needed await the next generation. I keep looking for it here, haven’t seen any sign of it yet, but keep hoping to sight that young person who will lead us out of the wilderness.

Harold Cockerill August 20, 2011 at 7:22 am

All it takes to be successful in politics is to hit on the lie the majority is willing to believe. The fault lies not with the liar but with the masses willing to believe the lie.

Invisible Backhand August 20, 2011 at 8:22 pm

test post, ignore

Invisible Backhand August 20, 2011 at 8:22 pm

Paul Krugman

Whatta August 20, 2011 at 10:21 pm

some things never change…suddenly this 1941 poem by Robinson Jeffers pops into my head:

Be Angry At The Sun

That public men publish falsehoods
Is nothing new. That America must accept
Like the historical republics corruption and empire
Has been known for years.

Be angry at the sun for setting
If these things anger you. Watch the wheel slope and turn,
They are all bound on the wheel, these people, those warriors.
This republic, Europe, Asia.

Observe them gesticulating,
Observe them going down. The gang serves lies, the passionate
Man plays his part; the cold passion for truth
Hunts in no pack.
Let boys want pleasure, and men
Struggle for power, and women perhaps for fame,
And the servile to serve a Leader and the dupes to be duped.
Yours is not theirs.

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