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Quotation of the Day…

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… is from page 290 of Volume 1 (Virginia Political Economy [2] [2004]) of the Selected Works of Gordon Tullock; specifically, it’s from Gordon’s 1980 Presidential address – “The Rhetoric and Reality of Redistribution” – to the Southern Economic Association (footnote excluded):

Most government transfers, however, are transfers to small, politically influential groups like the farmers, the civil servants, people who want to send their children to college, etc.  There is no way of getting these transfers through if the simple straightforward method of cash payments is chosen.  That is just to obvious.  Deception is, in general, necessary in these cases, and the deception cannot take the form of simply lying – it has to take the form of setting up a structure which makes the transfer while purporting to do something else.

Note that Gordon does not say here that lying by politicians is unnecessary; he says that lying is insufficient.  Lying must be accompanied by persuasive props on the political and governmental stages designed to dupe the audience into thinking that something noble (or at least in the self-interest of most members of the broad audience) is taking place – while, in fact, what is really taking place is something quite ignoble and almost surely at odds with the self-interest of most members of the broad audience.

Just as the London and Broadway stages, and as Hollywood movie sets, select for success those actors who can act most persuasively – those actors who can best convince audiences to believe in make-believe – the stage that is politics selects for success those politicians who can act most persuasively.  The political process is biased against the success in politics of honest people – people who, if not incapable of lying and engaging in dupery, at least feel badly enough about doing so that their guilt at the prospect of performing such unethical shenanigans shows on their faces.

Most of the few honest and decent people who do succeed at national politics tend to really believe in the make-believe world in which their political success permits them to act.  I suspect, for example, that U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) honestly believes that the stage play of which he has an assigned role is reality – that government really has the power to successfully ‘run’ society, to pull off marvelous feats of social engineering, and to make the world runneth over with free bubble-up and rainbow stew [3] (which, through the careful regulatory efforts of all the political B-listers toiling away happily and self-sacrificiously in countless government office buildings, will be kept forever nutritious and delicious).

But the typical politician, I’m pretty sure, has no such delusions.  The typical politician knows that he or she has been selected by the great crowd-sourcing process known as “voting” to play roles in a gigantic theatrical production for the entertainment of the masses who just want so desperately to believe that reality is optional.