I Can Have More Constructive Conversations with a Hamster

by Don Boudreaux on April 25, 2012

in Adam Smith, Politics

Here’s a letter to the Programming Director at Washington, DC’s, WTOP Radio:

Dear Sir or Madam:

A listener called your Talk Back line during today’s 7am hour to exclaim that “national elections are occasions” in which “candidates and the American people talk to each other about what’s important.”

Please.  Enough with these panegyrics about democratic elections.  These “occasions” might help to keep political power less concentrated and less dangerous than it would be otherwise, but they hardly promote constructive conversation between candidates and the general public.

Such conversation requires candor.  But each candidate is interested in winning office rather than in exploring the verities.  He would thunder against the Pythagorean theorem if he sniffed the slightest political advantage in doing so.  And his bevy of lieutenants – ever-present on television and radio talk shows – are selected not for their objectivity but for their skills at chicanery and equivocation.

What Adam Smith observed in 1759 remains true today: “A true party-man hates and despises candor; and in reality there is no vice which could so effectually disqualify him for the trade of a party-man as that single virtue.”*

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

* Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1976 [1759]), p. 259.

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