Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Should We Elect a Problem Solver?

Tibor R. Machan

In his long interview with Chris Wallace on Fox TV on Sunday April 27, Senator Obama asserted that “The American people, what they are looking for is somebody who can solve their problems.”

Wow, have I been wrong all these decades. I thought what the American people were looking for is someone who will protect the Constitution of the United States. Isn’t that what the president swears to when he or she is inaugurated? Does that entail that the president is to set about solving our problems?

I have a bunch of problems. I buy too much stuff, so much at times I haven’t enough funds to cover it. I also have periodic sinus infections. And my neighbor has a huge weed--looks like a regular tree--that blocks the view from my living room and he will not cut it down. And I also have nagging sciatica, as well as a numb left thigh, both of which make it difficult for me to get about.

Oh, but there is more. Sometimes it gets very hot up here in the canyon, where I live, and not even air conditioning cools down my place and I detest working while I am sweating like a horse. And there is no one I know hereabouts with whom I can have an occasional beer or go out to the movies. It’s a bummer all around--so many problems (I’ve only just started the list).

So, I take it, if and when Senator Obama gets to be president--or indeed, anyone else--my problems will be solved for me. Hurrah! I can’t wait. But then I really don’t believe he or anyone else can solve my or anyone else’s problems, actually, since he has to solve his own problems and he doesn’t know me and he lacks the skills needed to even begin to help Americans solve theirs.

Furthermore, if some of the work done by various political economists, for which one has received the Nobel Prize, tells it like it is, politicians and bureaucrats are not really even inclined to try to solve our problems, no matter what they profess. They have agendas of their own, or so public choice theory tells us, which will occupy their attention quite fully throughout their tenure. And that makes very good sense--these folks are much more familiar with their own problems, with what concerns them, with what they would like to accomplish, than with the problems of the American citizenry.

You see, public choice theory teaches us that just as anyone else in society, so politicians and bureaucrats are pretty much bent on furthering the goals they have rather than other people’s goals. Those goals may well be fine and dandy, don’t get me wrong. But when politicians and bureaucrats attend to them, they do so with funds and resources that are not their own and so the ordinary restraints of prudence that tend to guide private citizens and groups of them are easily overlooked. In short, these government folks are spending other people’s money to further the goals they favor and know enough about to help to achieve. So they are naturally more likely to solve their own problems, further their own aims, than those of the American people, and also to overspend in the process.

Then there is the additional problem that the American people are a highly diverse and immense lot, with a great many different problems they would like solved. They are, therefore, less likely to be helped out by people far removed from their lives, living in Washington, DC, for example, or some state capitol. And when the American people do receive some help from these folks, it is usually some special group that benefits, not at all the entire public. These special groups--often called special interests--may be helped out by politicians and bureaucrats so as to secure their political support but not because of brotherly love, fraternity, or some other fellow feeling. And the help is very likely to stop once the political payoffs have been delivered.

What Senator Obama and all the others aspiring to political office should learn is that the American Founders had a very good idea when they identified the function of government to be the protection of our unalienable rights, nothing more. This is the way to restrain politicians to working on what they have at least a chance to succeed at. That is the wisdom in the idea of limited government. But this wisdom doesn’t even come up any longer during election campaigning, not from the media, not from the candidates, and, sadly, not even much from the American people.

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