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In our new book, Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey and I discuss the fundamental problems with assuming that public officials have our best interests at heart.
Excerpt from Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto:
The Tea Party movement adds a welcome addition to the fundamental debate over the size and scope of government: grassroots activists armed with the intellectual arguments they need to make a difference in political debates, not just scholarly discussions. What is happening is a dramatic increase in the physical infrastructure and on-the-ground personal politicking that can turn ideas into action. The new generation of limited government scholars, and the internet, provides an even wider audience for good ideas. But unlike earlier generations, the new generation as the muscle to make things happen in the political arena.
While standing for the right ideas and values is vitally important, it is naive to think that politicians will do the right thing simply because a proposed polict will benefit the general citizenry, creating the conditions for economic opportunity and individual prosperity for all. That’s simply not how things work.If there was doubt about the proposition before, today it is painfully obvious that politicians in power often act in their own self-interest at the expense of the “public interest”.
The “currency” that drives the political marketplace is fundamentally different from the private economy. In the private economy, it is enough to have a good idea, identify a new product, develop it, and sell it to an identified (or created) customer base. In the market, entrepreneurship and competition determine outcomes. Returns and values matter and are ultimately determined by individuals making choices.
In the political economy, good ideas, philosophical values, and economic efficiency have little to do with how public policy decisions are actually made. The biggest error made by advocates of government planning, from Marx to Keynes to Obama, is the assumption that bureaucrats and elected officials possess both the detailed knowledge and right motives to be able to solve the economic problems of a nation. While microeconomics correctly assumes that individuals act in their own self-interest, every macroeconomic proposal for government intervention assumes that public officials act in the public interest, somehow supressing their individual interests to the greater interests of society.
In reality, public choices are driven by the interests of those making the choices – the politicians who draft, promote, and vote on the legislation; and the special interests that work to influence the political decision-making process. Politics is driven by the need to solicit new voters to the polls. Power (to tax, spend and regulate) is used to consolidate those votes, and to buy more votes at the margin. The policy agendas of both parties are driven by this pursuit of votes and power.