Government planning

Beat the Elite

Politicians in Washington want to tell you what to do and take your money for it.


We love to complain about elites, people who seem to have a special advantage, privileges in life.

I get annoyed by the Kardashians and other spoiled rich kids. They didn't work for their wealth. They don't contribute.

Still, those elites are mostly harmless.

But there's one group of truly dangerous elites: politicians. Spoiled party kids may have stupid ideas, but they can't impose them on the rest of us. Politicians can, and do. It's an important distinction to remember.

In Thomas Sowell's book The Vision of the Anointed (which should have been titled The Conceit of the Self-Anointed), Sowell points out that politicians use "the word 'ask'—as in 'We are just asking everyone to pay their fair share.' But of course governments do not ask, they tell. The IRS does not 'ask' for contributions."

A rare presidential candidate who understands the importance of that difference is Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who will appear on my TV show Friday. Paul points out that free markets get people to create things without force, and markets are much more efficient than governments.

"The Soviet Union was brought down because they couldn't determine one simple thing, the price of bread," says Paul. "They had all these planners, but nobody can determine the price of bread. Only the market can."

Sadly, Paul hasn't inspired voters with that message, while his fellow senator, self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a Democratic presidential candidate, draws huge, cheering crowds. Front-runner Hillary Clinton doesn't call herself a socialist—but she often acts like one.

"There's an irony here," says Paul, "because many of these people say, I'm pro-choice. No, they're very anti-choice when it comes to market decisions. Producing stuff, buying stuff, selling stuff—you're not allowed to do it. They're the anti-choice party. That's what socialism is."

People defend government spending out of concern for the poor, but what we get from government often has little to do with helping those at the bottom. "We just discovered," says Paul, "that they spent $800,000 developing a televised cricket league for Afghanistan… and they spent $150,000 for yoga classes for federal employees."

This habit of taking money and power from citizens all over America and letting Washington elites decide how to use it doesn't exist just among Democrats. Paul sees it among Republican supporters of Donald Trump, too. Their attitude, says Paul, is "nobody quite knows exactly what economic system that celebrity is for, but trust him because he's smart and all-powerful—give him more power and he'll fix everything."

By contrast, Paul says, "I'm not running to run the economy or the country."

I worry that, to most people, that sounds like a politician not "doing his job." People do seem eager to vote for a politician who will "lead," and "take charge."

But I don't want to be led. I'm not a child. I don't need elites in Washington, D.C., to boss me around and then tax me for it.

I wish voters would read Matt Ridley's new book, The Evolution of Everything. He points out that when it comes to the innovations that make the most difference in our lives—medicine, smartphones, search engines, even language—it's not the elite planners who bring progress.

"It comes from the bottom up," says Ridley. "What happens in technology or morality or culture or any other aspect of human life is that ordinary people interacting with each other is the source of most innovation, most change in the world."

These good things happen in a decentralized, unplanned way all around us—and it's been that way since humans first evolved.

Ridley says, "We give far too much credit to the people who are in charge, the people who seem to be on top of things and running things. They're just taking the credit."

Politicians should admit that more often. But that would require them to be humble. Loudly pretending to be in charge is their specialty.


NEXT: Ohio Says No to Legal Weed, Maine Liberals Reject $15 Minimum Wage, Atheism on the Rise: A.M. Links

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. John, you are missing the other side of the coin. What about the 45% (or higher) of the population that demands that the big govt provide rulers, leaders, bureaucrats and administrators to control their lives. In the free market of ideas about half of the population does NOT want liberty and freedom. They want someone to take up the flag of the cause of the days and make someone “guilty” for their problems.
    Funny that libertarians see many issues were both sides win (or at least are better off) in the exchange of products and services but liberals demand that someone must “win” and another “lose”.

    1. “Political tags ? such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth ? are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.”

    2. Interesting point – reminds me of how my opinion of Bernie Sanders progressed over the summer, having not been very familiar with him before except as “that guy who pretends to be an independent but never votes against Democrats”. When he was the plucky underdog, I saw him as a sort of idiot savant based on the quotes that were getting published. Yeah, his economic fundamentals sucked, but he came across as pretty genuine and I wondered if he might actually be out to make everyone’s lives better (and he was just too naive to embrace the market as a way to do so).

      Turns out it took a lot of media filtering to make him sound that gentle and reasonable. The first time I sat down and watched a full 45 minute Bernie stump speech out of morbid curiousity, I was absolutely flabbergasted how few sentences he spoke that did not directly imply “the economy is a zero sum game.” Time after time after time, variation after variation on “every dollar that goes into a Koch’s pocket comes out of yours.”

      That’s beyond unacceptable economic theory, stretching into pure malice. The very purpose of a free economy is that if you feel your life is made worse by any transaction, DON’T MAKE IT. And if your standard of living goes down because others are making transactions and you’re sitting around with your thumb up your ass, it’s your own fault.

      1. Sanders is just Obama 2.0. As you said his stump speeches are just a collection of “cause celeb” phrases of the day. They are well crafted. Attack him on any of his phrases and you hate the poor hate women etc. When I pointed out recently to a Sanders groupie the myth of the 75% pay for women there was now fact rebuttal just emotional accusation of sexism and Koch influence(still waiting on my Koch industries check) It is like I am watching a replay of the 2008 election. I just want to know who is the man/woman/etc behind the curtain running Sanders.

  2. And if your standard of living goes down because others are making transactions

    “it’s proof that the system is rigged and only government can control those greedy, profiteering bastards!”

    /average statist

  3. Whoa, a 1 page Stossel article, that’s a first! Also, I hear Francisco likes Stossel.

  4. I make up to $90 an hour working from my home. My story is that I quit working at Walmart to work online and with a little effort I easily bring in around $40h to $86h? Someone was good to me by sharing this link with me, so now i am hoping i could help someone else out there by sharing this link… Try it, you won’t regret it!……


    1. You can give blowjobs online?

    2. Well placed spam! You’ll get a bonus for sure.

  5. Have I mentioned I like Stosssel?

  6. Politicians in Washington want to tell you what to do and take your money for it

    Except that that isn’t what seems to be happening:

    The lowest three quintiles get much more in government transfers than they pay in taxes, the fourth quintile breaks about even, and the top 20% get massively screwed.

  7. Live Free[er]?

    Dear Reason reader,

    One of the most freedom- damaging beliefs you can have is the belief in the necessity, and the effectiveness, of political involvement – to supposedly “improve” your own life and the lives of others .

    Fact: as an individual you will _never_ enjoy a freer life for yourself until you completely see through/ reject the “drug”, “religion” [ or whatever else you want to call it] known as “political activism” or “involvement”, in its entirety.
    I can help with that.

    Regards, onebornfree.
    Personal Freedom Consulting:

  8. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ??????

  9. Bernie says central committee is coming up with new Ben & Jerry,s flavor = commie crunch

  10. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go? to tech tab for work detail,,,,,,,


  11. I agree with everything Mr. Stossel has written. I have defended the free market for many years now as a better means of getting the goods and services we desire at the prices we are willing to pay and this includes medicine and medical insurance.

    One liberal argument that stumps me, however, is what about basic research. The argument goes that without basic research funded by the federal government we would not have some of the most profound advancements ever made in modern science. The flip side to their argument is that the private sector would not shoulder the expenses of doing basic research.

    Ok you libertarian readers. Help me understand why the liberal argument is wrong, or not wrong. TIA.

    1. Tell your liberal friends they’re absolutely right. If governments don’t fund basic research, there will be no basic research. It’s like the way there were no farms before government devised agriculture policy and the creation of Medicare is the only reason we have doctors today.

      Okay, sarcasm off…

      I don’t really know just what the funding mechanism for basic research would look like but I know that basic research would happen. For one thing, it always has. Government funding is a recent development in research. Look at most of the inventions around you. Most of them would have been invented sooner or later. Yes, some research areas would progress more slowly but others would move along a lot faster. There are enough people who are smart enough and curious enough about the world that they want to understand it. They would find a way to pay for it.

      Researchers today don’t want to change the current funding system because they already know how to operate within it, so of course they claim that no other system would work. They’re just afraid a different system wouldn’t work as well for them. Foundations, universities, and private industry all would be funding sources for research if the government didn’t do it. Look at anything the private sector does. I guarantee that if it were a service the government provided, everyone involved would claim that it’s unimaginable that any institution outside government could do it.

    2. Check out Matt Ridley’s Wall Street Journal article, “The Myth of Basic Science”, at

  12. I’m a little disappointed in that this article focuses on the idea of politicians being the power elite, when they are also the money elite. One thing I never understood about the Occupy Wall Street crowd is their obsession with Wall Street. If they’re that bugged about the 1%, what are they doing on Wall Street? The real money is inside the Beltway.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.