What strain of person derives profit — monetary or psychic — from elected office? Mostly the strain of person I strive to avoid: the nosy neighbor too quick to comment on your daughter's comings and goings; the junior-college erudite miffed by the world's reluctance to embrace his brilliance; the sentimental Luddite who believes yesterday is always better than today; the impassioned community organizer whose sentences are too peppered with "we" and "must."
I am sure those running for office think otherwise, particularly those running for minor offices — the office where profit is mostly psychic. Perhaps these fledgling public servants think of themselves as ambitious. After all, these middling bureaucracies can be a first step on a journey toward more vainglorious, more remunerative public callings: the US House, the US Senate — and if one is exquisitely masterful at speaking in euphemisms, the presidency. These higher offices confer remarkable wealth to even the dullest dullard. And if one lacks the gumption to progress to the national level, an excessively remunerative sinecure awaits in many lesser state and local offices.
Much money and attention is given to politics; so much that even standing on the sidelines to comment can generate outsized wealth and attention. Rush Limbaugh and his numerous conservative epigones have etched lucrative careers perpetuating the myth that if we just vote for the right candidates (literally, in Limbaugh's case) the world will be set properly on its axis and the United States' master-of-the-universe status will grow further still.
Of course, for left-liberals, the right person resides on the left. For either side, the right person is a myth — a fraud, actually. There is no right person, left or right, because the right person from any one person's perspective will always be the wrong person from everyone else's perspective.
Stripped to its core, politics is nothing more than an egregiously expensive exercise in self-aggrandizement and frustration. Once you get past the preening and rabble-rousing, all democratic government is Fabian government. Democratic government always grows. That Limbaugh consistently persuades his putative 20 million daily listeners that Republicans are champions of the free market and small government is a tribute to charismatic oratory. Republicans are nearly as progovernment as Democrats. The great Republican revolution lasted from 1995 to 2008. Over that period, total federal outlays grew to $2.982 trillion from $1.515 trillion, a 5.3 percent average annual growth rate.
Federal government spending as a percentage of GDP dropped to 18 percent in the early years of the revolution, but once Republicans became accustomed to dispensing the spoils to their constituents, the small-government bone fides faded with the economy. When the revolution flamed out, in 2008, federal-government spending as a percentage of GDP was higher when the GOP lost the majority than when they had gained it, rising to 22 percent of GDP by the end of the reign.
Republican or Democratic, nothing changes. The tea-party movement, the Green Party, the Modern Whig Party cannot change anything. Neither can the Libertarian Party or its favorite Republican son, Ron Paul. Government institutions eventually overwhelm and corrupt the principled politician.
These institutions are the intractable obstacle to human progress because they demand conciliation. Conciliation debases the brightest ideas and elevates the stupidest ones. What ideology is left is a thin brown gruel that satisfies no one. The insanity of it is that, like Oliver Twist, many of us ask for more, even when we don't have to.
We are different; our combination of wants and desires confers individuality. This uniqueness makes division of labor and free markets possible. Our differences, our uniqueness, mean we value scarce resources differently (I prefer the term constrained resource; no big-box retailer conjures thoughts of scarcity), and thank goodness for that. Otherwise, everything would be reduced to gruel. Life would be like a flock of seagulls converging on the same trawler for the same fish chum.
Politics and government twist the overwhelming advantages of our unique desires and skills into conflict. Instead of each of us going his own way to satisfy his needs and earning a living satisfying other people's needs in a manner each of us finds most accommodating, we are forced to choose between suboptimal options imposed by institutions. Politics distills options to the most ascetic elements when a cornucopia should prevail.
To wit: evolution or intelligent design? If the elected school board picks one over the other, a minority's interests prevail and bitterness and frustration rise among the dissenting majority. Why evolution or intelligent design, why not evolution for evolutionists and intelligent design for creationists? More important, why not something else for those of us who believe both are barren explanations?
This perverse system of coercing people to accept limited options decivilizes. The question of Ford or Chevrolet produces discord between two pot-valiant knuckleheads at a NASCAR race, the rest of us choose a Ford, Chevrolet, or whatever brand best suits our fancy.
Politics always distills everything to the knucklehead Ford-or-Chevrolet conundrum. Is it any wonder politics infuriates and inflames? The media apotheoses of political conflict — the repugnant Keith Olbermann and the shrewish Ann Coulter — are two sides of the same coin. Their stock in trade is forcing people to consider the lesser of two evils, when no evil need prevail. Do most of us give a thought, much less a damn, about gay marriage? Does anyone think politics will settle the abortion debate?
When politics isn't decivilizing society, it's raising time preferences. Problems must be immediately resolved, lest the world grind to a halt. Immediacy neuters logic and reason. Who else but a politician could believe sagging pants are a leading contributor to juvenile delinquency? Many do, and when these ad hoc thoughts invade a politician's consciousness, those thoughts must be legislated post haste.
When politics isn't fomenting conflict, raising time preferences, and stupefying the nation, it is attenuating progress. Contrary to the incessant jabbering on the need for "change," all politicians despise change. Change — real human progress, Schumpeterian change — erodes political power and undermines regimes. Politics myopically focuses on the known, which is why politicians ruthlessly strive to maintain the status quo.
Stasis is the binding factor in political power. Education is delivered in big sterile buildings, seven classes of 50 minutes each, scheduled to accommodate ancient agrarians. Regulation expands to encompass the last crisis, thus assuring the next. The military markets big landmass enemies, thus enabling rag-tag bands of freelancers from smallish countries to wreak havoc on the country's largest city.
Marginalization is the only solution. Government is marginalized when it is ignored, when individuals eschew the political process.
So, do yourself and the rest of us a favor: if you are considering running for elected office, don't. If you are a small-government type, you're unable to impede government growth anyway. If you are a big-government type, you are unable to grow government to your liking. Once in the system, you'll be marginalized. You will make more enemies than friends, and rightfully so. How dare you force me to choose when I'd rather not.
Eschewing government also inures you to government's corrupting influence. Look closely: politicians are exemplars of the characteristics we most despise in others: covetousness, cowardice, equivocation, fecklessness, and sophistry. If elected, you'll adopt these characteristics. Your personality will shift to stultified, reelection-seeking politician from firebrand reformer. Public service is the most ignoble of callings.
Voting wastes scarce time and resources. Political debate (the ultimate exercise in futility) is equally as wasteful. If you can educate your kids out of public school, do so.
The further we pull away from government institutions, the weaker they become. Ostracizing works. The strongest institutions, if ignored and neglected long enough, eventually crumble. The post office is literally crumbling before our eyes. Other seemingly impenetrable government institutions would suffer similar fates if we removed the stanchions by removing our participation in the political process.
The same crumbling effect would occur to individuals committed to maintaining government institutions and the status quo. Extracting ourselves from politics marginalizes the Barack Obamas, the Hillary Clintons, the Charles Grassleys, the Barney Franks, the Harry Reids, the Mitt Romneys, the et al. Delivering speeches in empty auditoriums and having a handshake rebuked with a turned back weakens confidence in the validity of the political mission.
But won't the socialists run roughshod? No, because the socialists are a small minority, and small minorities can only impose their will when the majority participates in a process that allows them to impose their will.
There is a salutary effect to minding one's business: the more one withdraws from politics, the more one realizes how trifling politics actually is, while concurrently realizing how cooperation and freedom provide the best solutions to the greatest number of problems.
Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.