The Problem Is Power Itself

by Don Boudreaux on January 21, 2016

in Man of System, Reality Is Not Optional

Here’s a letter to the Washington Post:

Charles Lane usefully reveals that what Bernie Sanders calls “the billionaire class” does not exist in any ideologically meaningful sense (“Actually, the ‘billionaire class’ might be more progressive than Sanders says,” Jan. 21).  But a deeper criticism of Mr. Sanders’s politics is warranted: he’s shooting at the wrong target.

Mr. Sanders aims his venom at billionaires because he wants to prevent (in the words of his adviser Tad Devine) “the use of wealth and power to intervene in the political system for one’s own economic self-interest.”  This goal is indeed noble.  But it is best achieved, not by attempting to ensure that only the ‘right’ people control state power, but by reducing state power itself.  Put differently, the fundamental problem is not in the identity of those who wield power but, rather, in the very existence of power.

To suppose that the vast and awesome state power that Mr. Sanders clamors for will not soon be seized by special-interest groups and demagogues who have no qualms about using such power for their “own economic self-interest” at the expense of the populace at large is a fantasy as dangerous as it is naïve and historically unwarranted.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030


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