Monday, September 29, 2008

The Nature of Politics (part 2)

In part 1 I wrote about the beginning of my enlightenment about politics. Here I will explain my philosophy in a little more detail.

In the end, politics is about gaining power and exercising authority over others. Many that become particularly adept at it are simply playing a game. The desired result seems to justify the tactics, even if an honest assessment of those tactics leaves one feeling ‘dirty.’ Moreover, it’s often a long game where small actions are taken in the hope of producing some future advantage, or where short-term losses are sometimes accepted as part of a long-term strategy to achieve larger goals.

With the passage of years, I have become more jaded — and perhaps even cynical — about politics in general. While there are sometimes virtuous players involved, the basic nature of politics in every political system throughout history remains essentially the same. And virtue is a term that can seldom be appropriately applied to it. Indeed, politics seems to stand in stark contrast to human freedom. It is only in rare fits — usually against the will of established power holders — that any political system increases freedom.

Many of our Founders understood the basic nature of politics. They worked to design a system that pits the interests of competing groups against each other in the hope of keeping factions in check and maintaining some semblance of balance. They never expected that politics would somehow transform into a bastion of virtue, as various people throughout the history of this nation have hoped.

While politics exist in every organization of any kind, the most significant check on political power is the availability of other options. If I find the political climate at my employer unacceptable, I am free to seek employment elsewhere. When alternatives are unavailable or options become limited, political machinations increase and reduce human freedom. For this reason, healthy competition is a cause that should be championed.

Options are naturally limited when it comes to geopolitical entities. Governments have arrogated to themselves the ability to control the most minute detail of the lives of their residents. If I dislike the political climate in my city enough, I am free to move elsewhere. The same with county and state politics. And people do so choose, frequently as the result of tax structures. People even do this with nations, but not so much in the USA. Many people simply live with what they have because they find the (monetary and/or social) cost of moving to be too high.

We can see that while various political factions may bicker about peripheral points, there is often general consensus about the most significant points, regardless of which faction is in charge. This is because politicians tend to respond to the incentives in the political system in which they operate, acting mainly in their own self interests rather than in the interests of their constituents. These interests sometimes happily coincide, but often they do not.

Which faction is on top at any given moment is far less important than the overall culture of the political system in which the various politicians find themselves and the amount of control the system can exert. Since politics — especially when it comes to the professional level — is inherently a dirty business, individuals are best served when strict limitations are placed on how much control the system may have over the lives of people.

Michael Barone writes, “You can sum up much of 20th-century history by saying that in the 1930s Americans decided that markets didn’t work and government did, and that in the 1970s Americans decided that government didn’t work and markets did.”

Barone opines that due to voters’ attention to recent history and ignorance of long-term history, we could be on the verge of once again significantly increasing government control over the economy and over our individual lives.

I agree with Barone that this would be the wrong direction. But it seems to me that we are headed that direction right now regardless of which faction has power. We will likely need to learn a bitter lesson before the pendulum swings back the other way. I could be an old man by then.

1 comment:

Chris said...

Amen. Thanks for posting your thoughts. I always enjoy reading them. I recently participated in some HOA politics and have to agree with you - politics at almost any level generally leave you with a "dirty feeling"