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As the campagin season illustrates the absurdities of our political system, Radley Balko argues at FoxNews.com that while we can't fix the inherent problems with elections, we can minimize the damage by making politics less important.

NEXT: How Do We "Fix" the Inherent Problems With Elections?

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  1. A company normally would never risk the backlash that would come with a plan to spy on its customers.
    -said in regards to the warrantless wiretapping.

    What about AT&T’s proposal to do content filtering of their network? (see here)

    It wouldn’t appear that the government has anything to do with it, but that’s clearly a plan to spy on its consumers.

    (In general, interesting/good article, though)

  2. Ain’t going to happen as long as libertarians treat campaign contributions as “speech” to be protected. Corporations will always be willing to pay for an advantage (while extolling the virtues of a “free market”) and politicians on the receiving end will always be willing to do their bidding.

  3. Right again Radley.
    Sure wish more people understood what you do.

  4. I think a lot of it is that we are so much wealthier now than we were. Back when most people made their living in small farms or businesses, giving 20% to the government was a really big deal. You could barely get by on what you made before taxes. Now, you can have all of the necessities plus a hell of a lot of things that people used to consider luxuries, like two or three phones, a car, a color TV, AC and the like on a pretty modest income. I don’t think people care as much about paying taxes as they once did because they can get so much more stuff for a given income than you could in the past.

    When man first developed agriculture and the surpluses that went with it, people didn’t have a whole lot to do a couple of months a year. To fill the time, they got together and built temples and pyramids and the like. They didn’t have a monetary system and they couldn’t buy TVs and IPODs but they still had a surplus of time. So, they took their surplus time and built stuff. Now, we take our surplus wealth and build bureaucracies rather than pyramids.

  5. Good article, and the discussion of “political” vs. “civil” society reminds me of Alfred J. Nock’s book Our Enemy, the State and his discussion of “social power” versus “State power.”

    (For those curious, the book is a short one and available online in its entirety at several locations. The first few sections, at least, are well worth reading.)

  6. Think back to the photo of Michael Dukakis looking ridiculous with his beauty-shop-coiffed head popping out of a tank.

    He was wearing a helmet.

  7. Yeah, you tell ’em Bill. The widespread influence of libertarianism is to blame. Those dirty libertarians have their slimy tentacles coiled firmly around the government. Without campaign finance laws, we’ll never be able to pry them loose!

    Jesus, Bill… it’s like a veil has been lifted from mine eyes!

  8. I tried to laugh at this Onion article a while back, but it’s too accurate to be considered satire:

    http://www.theonion.com/content/video/poll_bullshit_is_most_important

  9. spelling pedantry:

    Over the coming moths [sic]…

    3rd paragraph.

    clearly, should be months.

    just thought you’d want to know (I would, if it were my article).

    still reading, so no substantive comments yet (if ever)

  10. The government in the mid-1800s was about as small and its involvement in economic matters as restrained as a libertarian could hope for.

    Ever read about the eminent domain powers granted to the railroads, or the the Penn Coal case?

    The idea that people won’t buy the government if it’s small is foolish. They’ll buy it just to make it bigger, if need be.

  11. “The idea that people won’t buy the government if it’s small is foolish. They’ll buy it just to make it bigger, if need be.”

    That is very true Joe. Remember to that the 19th Century gave us Lincoln who libertarians sometimes claim was the devil incarnate. Wherever there is government there will be corruption or someone looking to influence it. I think it is a bit niave on Balko’s part to claim that a smaller govenrment will change that or still not have the ability to do great harm.

  12. Now, we take our surplus wealth and build bureaucracies rather than pyramids.

    OK, I’m trying not to fall over laughing at work at the idea that the pyramids were built because people were free from bureaucracy. I’m sure thousands and thousands of laborers just loved their pharaohs so much they thought “Hey, I’ve got all this spare time now that the harvest is in, so I’ll just go voluntarily move some giant stones around to make my friend Ramses happy.”

    Same with cathedrals: Church/state bureaucracies had nothing to do with it, right?

  13. John,

    Libertarianism as a philosophy would greatly benefit from a dose of pluralism-theory.

    Politics is fundamentally about groups that have interests. The shape scope of the govenrment is a second-order issue that is determined by the first.

    So whenever there is a grouop with outsized power, it’s going to use the government as a cudgel to get its way.

  14. True, Balko’s suggestion is not a recipe for utopia. That doesn’t invalidate his having identified what lies at the very core of America’s biggest flaw, and what could be done about it.

  15. Bill-

    Despite another poster’s mocking remarks, I think you make a good point. Campaign-finance issues are a good example, in my opinion, of a paradox near the heart of libertarian philosophy. Restricting any kind of speech is of course verboten, but the people who can deliver the most influential (i.e. well-funded) kind of speech tend not to be hospitable to the furtherance of libertarian ideas.

  16. So whenever there is a grouop with outsized power, it’s going to use the government as a cudgel to get its way.

    Really? You think libertarians don’t get that point? We understand it in our very bones.

  17. Joe makes an excellent point. But what can we do then?

  18. Mike,

    I don’t think it’s the “use the government” part y’all don’t get, but the fact that the power exists independently or and prior to the government, even if only as “potential energy.”

  19. lloyd bentsen was running for vp in ’92?

  20. I get that. I can’t vouch for whether others do.

    In favor of your argument, I do remember Ayn Rand writing something along the lines of “there are no conflicts of interest among rational men”, which is ridiculous. If I recall correctly, it was in a scene where Francisco D’Whatshisname discovers that Dagney Taggart has taken up with John Galt. His reaction is something like, “Oh, well. It’s very rational. After all, John Galt is a better person than I am.”

  21. Radley — Excellent piece.

  22. Remember to that the 19th Century gave us Lincoln who libertarians sometimes claim was the devil incarnate. Wherever there is government there will be corruption or someone looking to influence it.

    But the smaller and less powerful the government being bought is, the less harm it can do.

  23. The sad thing is that studies have shown that people can predict the winners of elections just by looking at a single picture of the candidates, with remarkable accuracy (>60% of the time).

    Oh, and Shrub is the shortest president we have had in more than a century, and he is taller than average.

    So much for rationality.

  24. My office-holder picking proposal:
    IQ test all adults over age 18. The names of the top 20% get put in a box and pulled at random to fill all elected offices. If a person’s name is pulled that does not want the office, he can decline and a new name is pulled. I think this would result in a far better representation that what we get now.

  25. joe,
    I would like to know what you think counts as “outsized power” and how having a more expansive government would reduce the threat it poses to others. Also, all freedoms (free speech, self-defense, and travel, for example) can be abused in some way that makes them harmful to others. However, to say that these freedoms should be taken away because some abuse them is the height of cowardice, and the bedrock of all tyranny.
    “Those who would sacrifice liberty for temporary security deserve neither liberty nor security.”

  26. I’m sure you would like me to tell you that. That would certainly be easer than formulating a response or comment about the ideas I rasied.

    It’s not a difficult concept, what it means for one group to have more power, resources, and influence than another. I’ll do you the courtesy of assuming you’re just playing dumb for effect.

    Nor is the concept of “more expansive” vs. “less expansive” government particular useful. A larger police force? Government ownership of industry? Higher tax rates? More spending on social programs? Tuition aid for attending schools? A bigger military? Regulation on business, and what kind? Just talking about how “expansive” the “government” is, as if it was some undifferentiated blob or any policy decision or program was interchangeable with any other tells us absolutely nothing useful.

    Those are some pithy cliches you’ve got there, though. I’m sure they are of great comfort to you.

  27. OK, this is getting annoying. That was me.

  28. BTW, henshaw, it’s really obvious that you just grabbed a new handle.

    Funny, I’ve never felt the need to do that.

  29. Gotta majorly disagree with you, joe. It doesn’t even matter if the government is trying to do something good. Once the scale of the whole enterprise gets too big, once too much power is concentrated in a few with diminishing accountability and lines of communication with those being governed, the intended good will not be achieved.

  30. A string of non-sequitors usually indicates that nobody has a plausible rebuttal to your point.

    Politics is fundamentally about groups that have interests. The shape scope of the govenrment is a second-order issue that is determined by the first.

    So whenever there is a grouop with outsized power, it’s going to use the government as a cudgel to get its way.

    Can’t anybody actually address this?

  31. What I mean, Mike L, is if you have to disagree, you go right on with your bad self. By all means, I’m all ears.

    But you haven’t actually done so yet. What you wrote is totally unrelated to my point.

  32. Didn’t Milton Friedman state that small (as in possibly libertarian-approved) governments are the exception rather than the rule, and that the tendency of governments is to grow (either by being captured by industry, or simply by good intentions)? If anyone has an idea how government-slashing could work in the long term, I’m all ears.

  33. Can’t anybody actually address this?

    I was pretty clear. The form of big government itself causes problems. It doesn’t matter what interest groups or people are involved.

    OK, that’s a opinion, stated without any examples. But your opinion was stated at the very same level of detail.

  34. It doesn’t matter what interest groups or people are involved.

    Let me state that slightly differently: Even if one disregards the specific interest groups or people involved. Conflicting interests and ill-intentioned people only compound the problems.

  35. Juan —
    I was once told that problems either have “engineering” solutions or “management” solutions. An engineering solution is a clever design that fixes the problem for good; a management solution is a constant effort to keep mitigating the effects.

    I suspect small government needs continual “management.” Keep taking excesses to court, kick up a stink about civil liberties and property rights, make rent-seeking visible so the public can, occasionally, get mad.

  36. Mike,

    Here it is again:

    The idea that people won’t buy the government if it’s small is foolish. They’ll buy it just to make it bigger, if need be…Politics is fundamentally about groups that have interests. The shape scope of the govenrment is a second-order issue that is determined by the first.

    So whenever there is a grouop with outsized power, it’s going to use the government as a cudgel to get its way.

    Please note the complete and utter lack of commentary about whether the governmend does good stuff, whether big government is good, or whether it is responsive to the public.

    You haven’t disagree with me. You haven’t written anything that is responsive to what I wrote at all.

  37. joe, I was addressing other statements you made:

    “The shape scope of the govenrment is a second-order issue that is determined by the first.”

    I disagree. Scope of government is a first-order issue.

  38. Ah, I see. We’ve been talking past each other this whole time.

    By “second-order,” I wasn’t commenting on its importance, but what comes prior to what.

    Groups having outsized power comes first. Groups using that power to grow, distort, or coopt the government is a consequence of that. That’s what I was saying.

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