Monday, September 05, 2005

Politics as underware

The recent events in the Gulf Coast have reminded me how much politics are like underware. There are some obvious and base analogies here but I am thinking at a higher plane.

Underware is something we all need. Ditto for politics. In a democracy, politicians are also a necessary part of the mix. Some people think they can get along without underware - but they like those who think we can get along without politics are fundamentally mistaken. But unlike how some people think about underware, it is normally not a dominant part of our clothing. Politics can be. But I cannot think of many times when it should be.

Hayek talked about the fundamental benefits of market order in society. He said that the real benefit of any efficient system is the reduction of transaction costs. We don't think about the color of one's underware. Nor should we have to think about whether the hot dog we are purchasing is safe or not. In both cases there are many ways to get the benefit but the ultimate benefit of great politics is a reduction in costs. Conversely, if we make the wrong choices in either underware or politics the costs rise significantly. There are times when we think about underware and times when we do not (mostly the latter), occasionally the political system becomes too important for itself - it tends to ride up - and we are the losers for that. Either issues do not get solved or they get over hyped or both.

Underware gets pretty funky if you wear it too long. So do politicians. The errors of rent seeking politicians that Anne Kreuger and others have written so clearly about become more pronounced when the political class is too well ensconced in their jobs. The recent energy bill and its attendant long list of set asides of various causes is a good suggestion that the current majority in congress may have been there too long. We don't need three undershirts at once- only one.

But there may also be another conclusion here. It is unclear whether if the minority party were to go back into power that it would do things significantly differently. Is our attention to politics so pronounced that we look to it first to solve our problems? Would the change into majority status simply pay off a different group of pleaders?

This little mind experiment made me think about many recent issues, where the political class overstepped its function - by either claiming too much expertise (the Schaivo case comes to mind), or being indolent (think the mayor of NO and the Louisana governor) or by being too trendy (many examples) or just plain stupid. (many more examples). But the average American, were he to be able to think about politics like underware, might be a lot better off. Come to think of it, so would our political system.

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