10 March 2011

Politics is a Business

Back when I was in high school. Teachers were often taken aback by I cynical I was towards politics.  This trend continued into college, where professors were amazed that I even knew enough about politics to be completely disgusted by it.  My roommates also picked up on this as well, and we had many long discussions about politics, particularly during the 2008 election.  A lot of people were surprised by my refusal to vote, as well as my general hatred of politics and politicians, and would often ask why I felt that way.  The following excerpt should help to explain why:

11. Use of a strong moral argument for universal health care coverage, combined with a fairly practical, hard-headed approach to the scope of the mandate, and not realizing the tension between the two. Failure to indicate where the "bleeding heart" argument actually should stop and at what margins we should (and will) let non-elderly people die, if only stochastically.
Also unfair. This is mostly a marketing issue, not an economic one. In practice, the only way to build support for universal healthcare (or any other policy) is to talk up its good points, not its drawbacks. Insisting on some Diogenic level of honesty from liberals is really just a way of ensuring that liberals will never win public support for anything.

The above quote is from an article Mother Jones in response to Tyler Cowen’s list of blind spots, fallacies, and short-comings among Left-leaning economists.  Basically, Tyler is saying that left-leaning economists, particularly those who argue for universal health care, fail to disclose the specific tradeoffs of a given policy. In essence, the leftists failed to explain where the line was drawn in regards to keeping costs down, particularly as it relates to end-of-life care (which, incidentally, is the costliest part of modern healthcare).

My cynicism and distrust of politics and politicians stems from the response proffered by Kevin Drum.  He states that it is unfair for policy advocates to disclose negative costs because it is bad marketing.  What this means is, at the end of the politics is a business.  At the end of the day, politics is about molding society after your own designs.  And, at the end of the day, politics is about getting elected.

One would think that those who purport to be concerned about the public good would have no qualms about disclosing the pros and cons of a given proposal, particularly in a democracy, where the citizen-voter is presumed to be supreme.  And given that all decisions have tradeoffs and opportunity costs, it would only be responsible to apprise others of the costs of their decisions.

These political hacks, however, recognize that revealing the downside to their proposals is bad marketing.  And they are correct in this assessment.  It is horrible marketing to tell consumers why buying one’s product is a bad idea, although in this case they would be telling voters why supporting a certain policy is a bad idea.
And so, these political hacks are correct.  I do not fault them for understanding and applying basic marketing principles to their attempts to sell a policy to American voters.  But when they do this, they are nothing more than businessmen.

This, then, is why I am so cynical. Politics is just a business.  Sure, there are some CEOs who believe in the product they sell.  But whether they believe in their product is irrelevant to me.  The only question is what I get out of it.  And when you see things in that light, it becomes quite clear that most of what politicians say is simply hype, intended to make you buy a product you’ll end up regretting.

Sure, some politicians and political hacks may truly, deep down in their heart of hearts, believe in the snake oil they’re selling.  But it doesn’t change the fact that what they are selling is snake oil.

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