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Politics Isn’t for Me

Here’s my response to someone who (I’m proud to report) “majorly enjoy[s] Cafe Hayek”:

Mr. Lawrence:

Thanks for your e-mail. I’m delighted that you like Café Hayek. And I’m touched that you urge me to “run for Congress to put [my] ideas into effect.”

Alas, I’m among the last people on earth to have any interest in seeking political office. The reason is more than that I would find campaigning to be intolerably tedious and shameful. The foundational reason is that I have negative interest in holding such office. If a guaranteed seat in Congress were offered to me without my having to lift a finger to win it, I’d turn it down flat and immediately. I am ethically and intellectually unfit to exercise even as much as 1/535th of a quantum of power over others. In addition, were I to possess political power I’d be tempted to sell my soul. And being human, I’m too likely to succumb to such temptation. Better to avoid it.

Even if nothing above is a good reason to avoid politics, I find justification in this insight from Lord Acton:

Institutions and laws have their roots not in the ingenuity of statesmen, but as much as possible in the opinion of the people.*

I have the good fortune not only to be a college professor, but also to love teaching. I teach economics. I give talks on economics. I write on economics. Nothing that I do during my earthly tenure is apt to have any impact on policy outcomes. But if I were to have any impact at all, it would only be through helping to shape the opinion of the people. Ultimately, we are governed exclusively by that.


* Lord Acton, Essays in Religion, Politics, and Morality (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1988), page 569. (I can find no date for the quoted passage.)