Bryan Caplan  

Sell-Out Symmetry

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A good question from Trent McBride at Distributed Republic:

When Republicans use free market rhetoric while campaigning, only to reverse when in office, we (most libertarians) decry their hypocrisy and warn not to believe future statements. And likely correctly so.

However, when Democrats spout socialist rhetoric, I would argue most libertarians take it as face value and fear they are speaking their true feelings, unlikely to stab their ideological constituents in the back. Why does this asymmetry exist?

This sounds like a classic case of pessimistic bias to me!


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COMMENTS (8 to date)
Dr. T writes:

The asymmetry exists because of the power gradient. In the first example, breaking the promise of free markets gives the government more power. In the second example, keeping the promise of more socialistic policies gives the government more power. I always expect government officials to act in ways that increase government power, so I disbelieve the first politician and believe the second.

Troy Camplin writes:

Well, there is that bias, but also consider this> People typically get into government to get power. If someone says, "I plan to reduce the power of government when I'm in charge," and then does the opposite, that is in fact hypocrisy. However, if someone who is trying to get into government says that they want to seize more power, doesn't it make sense to take them at face value, since they are obviously being more honest?

TGGP writes:

It simply follows from the libertarian view of the state as Leviathan/Minotaur constantly seeking to grow.

RL writes:

To flesh out the point *I think* Bryan is making:

GRANTED, most every politician running for office wants to achieve power while in office.

ONE way of achieving power is to promise the market rubes you'll cut the size of government, even when you don't intend to. After all, even if that would make the economy run better, it would lessen your power.

ANOTHER way of achieving power is to promise to the progressive rubes that you'll dramatically increase the power of government to solve "every problem" in society, even when you don't intend to. After all, that would make the economy run worse, and it would therefore lessen your power.

And yet we believe the guy saying he'll decrease the size of govt is lying to us, and we believe the guy who says he wants drastically larger govt is telling the truth.

But if we're already at a long-term secular equilibrium--if we already have about as large a government as we can tolerate at this level of production; if more government would lead to significantly less overall soceital wealth--isn't it just as likely the guy calling for much more government is lying just like the guy calling for much less government?

Troy Camplin writes:

This assumes that the one promising more government actually knows that government is destructive. THere is a pessimistic bias there in the fact that we assume that most people don't understand how destructive of most things government is.

Josh writes:

Everyone already said what I was thinking - politicians seek power so we shouldn't expect those who say they want more power to reverse their thinking.

But there's another point - if one party says "I want to do everything you like" and another says "I want to do everything you hate", is he suggesting that we vote for the latter because politicians lie and so they're likely to do the opposite? Frankly, that seems a bit silly...

Tom West writes:

Or worse, understand how destructive of most things government is and approve anyway.

I'm well aware how government fails at many things, but still prefer a high level government involvement to the free-market alternative (for example, health care).

More to the point, given voting patterns and how they correspond to education levels, I'm pretty certain it's not simply ignorance that causes people to vote for more government involvement in their lives - they're simply happier that way.

Troy Camplin writes:

They're not happier. They just feel guilty about having more than others and, instead of being generous with their own money, vote to have others be generous with it. It takes 2 hours to get a picture taken at the DMV -- why do you want these same people to run health care?

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