The naive view that politics is the way to serve people

A big part of the statist propaganda effort in America has been to convince people that politics is the way to serve the interests of people, while activity in the private sector is just motivated by selfishness. In the letter below, Don Boudreaux responds to an individual who has fallen under that spell:

1 January 2014

Mr. Leland Johansen

Dear Mr. Johansen:

I appreciate your note in which you express strong opposition to my negative opinion of politics and politicians. All I can say is that I see reality far differently than you see it – so differently that I’m afraid that I cannot take your advice that I “resolve” on this New Year’s Day “to renew [my] faith in the goodwill of our elected leaders in Washington to work for the greater good and [my] confidence that their efforts will triumph if we all work together.”

First, I can’t renew a faith and confidence that I never possessed. Second, resolving to have faith and confidence in the goodwill and abilities of politicians, especially today when they legislate largely without Constitutional restraints, makes no more sense to me than resolving to have faith and confidence that there really is a Santa Claus. Imagining such an alternate reality can be fun, but it’s a pastime for children, not for adults.

If you really wish to serve your fellow Americans, stay in the private sector where those with whom you deal pay you voluntarily – that is, in ways that prove that you are serving them well. In politics, you’ll be spending money taken from others forcibly, so you’ll have precious little reliable feedback on whether you are helping or harming your fellow Americans.

I wish you and yours a great 2014.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics

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