… is from page 3 of Deirdre N. McCloskey’s superb 1990 book, If You’re So Smart: The Narrative of Economic Expertise:
We swim all day in wrong stories told by liars, incompetents, and the self-deluded. In economics the wrong stories take a particularly dangerous form, which I shall call snake oil, the cure-all for what ails you. The customer wants the economist to be an expert forecaster, telling that simplest and most charming of economic stories: Once upon a time there was a newspaper reader who was poor; then she read a column by a wise economist, who for some reason was giving his valuable advice to her and two million other readers; and now as a result she is rich. Or: Once upon a time there was a kingdom with a people who did not like to study, preferring to sniff cocaine and watch videos on MTV; then the king hired an expert social engineer who had done much studying; and then as a result the people became prosperous, without of course having to do anything so painful as studying.
Economic snake oil sells, in other words, because the public wants it.
And those who are most thoroughly without shame at peddling such snake oil to the public are those who win the most popularity – including the most popular votes. Indeed, because those who are most thoroughly without such shame are those who actually believe in the miraculous healing and transformative powers of snake oil, the popular pundits, preachers, and politicians who peddle economic snake oil often believe the fallacies they promote. Bernie Sanders, for example, likely really is as utterly ill-informed and economically ignorant as he reveals himself to sensible people to be.
There are exceptions – I suspect many. The Clintons, for instance, almost certainly hold between them not a single principle that they’d hesitate for as much as a split moment to sacrifice for a soupçon of power. But despite the many exceptions, I more and more believe it to be true that most politicians are actually as stupid as they sound, and really believe in the miracle cures that they peddle.