Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on February 21, 2019

in Economics, Politics, Reality Is Not Optional

… is from page 10 of my GMU Econ colleague Richard Wagner’s excellent 2014 monograph, American Federalism: How Well Does It Support Liberty?

The task of sober analysis is to discipline thought so as to limit the ability of thought to damage practice through wishful thinking.

DBx: Indeed so. And what an important task this one is. Wishful thinking, being for those who engage in it both free and fun, is superabundant. In contrast, sober analysis is often difficult and, while it has its very real satisfactions, is not fun in the same childish way that wishful thinking is fun.

Just as it is fun and easy for a child atop a mall-Santa’s knee to express a wish for each and every toy that comes to mind, it is fun and easy for a pundit, preacher, professor, or member of the general public to express a wish for each and every state of the world that seems pleasant and superior to reality. And under majoritarian democracy, it is the business of politicians to play something of the role of mall-Santas – to hear these wishes and to promise to fulfill them.

But the analogy with mall-Santas soon breaks down. A mall-Santa immediately forgets little Justin’s and little Julie’s wishes the moment each pops off Santa’s knee. A politician – having landed in a job filled with more perks, prestige, and power than that of a mall-Santa – wants to retain his or her lofty perch. And to maintain that perch requires that he or she at least be perceived by all the wish-issuers as attempting to fulfill those wishes. This reality holds regardless of how absurd those wishes are.

Another difference separating mall-Santas from real-world politicians is that, unlike mall-Santas, politicians offer their own gift ideas, such as the recently proposed Green New Deal.

Politicians are in the business of seeking votes by promising to repeal reality and then either masking the messes that are made when attempts to repeal reality backfire, or blaming others both for the messes and for the fact that reality in each case has proven to be non-optional.

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