Modern politicians talk a lot about working. We must “work together” to build a future for our children. Elect me and I’ll “work tirelessly” to give you this or that good thing. Here is the lawyer Obama, newly minted expert on energy economics, arguing that we need to work with a range of favored scientific companies to develop viable alternatives to oil. And likely as not, there is your city or county official, talking about working with businesses to develop your local economy.
The thing about politicians, of course, is that most of them don’t know much at all about work. Sure, they spend a lot of energy talking, and meeting people, and raising money, so that they are tired and feel as if they have been working, but most of us understand that none of that makes an engine run, or pulls food out of the ground, or generates a medicine that heals, or a suit that fits, or a book worth reading. If Obama knew the first thing about how to develop viable alternatives to oil, he would be far wealthier than he is now, just as your local politicians would be millionaires if they knew anything about venture capital.
This reality won’t stop any of them from confidently investing your money in “economic development” as if they have some window into the future of American prosperity, of course, but let’s not kid ourselves about what’s really going on. While people who work for a living tend to understand that the future is messy and unpredictable (which is why most of us choose to work for large, stable companies rather than risk venturing out on our own), to politicians the future is a term paper problem. Economy in a funk? No problem, says Obama. I covered that at Columbia.
Your local politicos have a similar conceit, which can be summed up in the political canard that is some variant of the tiresome campaign slogan: New Solutions — as if there are such things, and as if Congressman Blowhard, who is only successful by dint of talking far more than he listens, has somehow divined what they are.
So all this talk of politicians rolling up their sleeves to work for the rest of us evokes the image of a drunken uncle insisting that he be allowed a turn at the wheel on the family vacation. You have to let him stay in the station wagon because he is your uncle, but he ought to sit in the very back, away from the children, where he can stare out the rear window and offer bold pronouncements about where you have been, and pretend that he had some part in getting you there.
The real problem, I suppose, is that too many of us have gotten into the habit of thinking that the jabbering drunk ought to be the one at the wheel, that there really is a road to a painless future up ahead somewhere, and only he can find it. Which is why I think we ought not let anyone vote until he has mastered three books: Bastiat’s The Law, Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson, and Seuss’s I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew. Which is one reason why, further, I will never be a viable candidate for public office.