Arnold Kling  

Public Service Signaling

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David Boaz writes,


Messrs. Obama and McCain are telling us Americans that our normal lives are not good enough, that pursuing our own happiness is "self-indulgence," that building a business is "chasing after our money culture," that working to provide a better life for our families is a "narrow concern."

The ideal of public service fits very well with Robin Hanson's notion of the widespread prevalence of signaling. It is very important to signal that you are a benevolent person with a collectivist mentality, even if the reality often conflicts with the signal. As Boaz points out,

Mr. Obama, who made $4.2 million last year and lives in a $1.65 million house bought with the help of the indicted Tony Rezko – and whose "elegant suits" and "impeccable ties" made him one of Esquire's Best-Dressed Men in the World – disdains college students who might want to "chase after the big house and the nice suits." Mr. McCain, who with his wife earned more than $6 million last year and who owns at least seven homes, ridicules Mr. Romney for having built businesses.

The way I see it, in November I will have a choice between two Spitzers.


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TrackBack URL: http://econlog.econlib.org/mt/mt-tb.cgi/835
The author at Incentives Matter in a related article titled Incentives and Information writes:
    Writing in today's Wall Street Journal, Cato Institute's David Boaz exposes the hypocrisy of Senators Obama and McCain, both of whom argue that individuals should be motivated by socially and [Tracked on May 28, 2008 4:01 PM]
COMMENTS (3 to date)
NickK writes:

So, he's saying that McCain and Obama have done nothing but serve their own interests? That being in the "big home" and "nice suit" groups contradict their story? Pssh. I won't reveal my voting preference, but I will tell you that most candidates in office are there because they have done things for others (the public). Both have immense records of public service. To simply dismiss these and say reality conflicts with signaling is poor writing and researching.

Are politicians corrupt? Yes, some. Are all? No. Do they always serve the interests of the public? Probably not. Do they most of the time? I think so.

Normally a fan of this blog (and in agreement with a lot of posts/ideas), but this post by Boaz seems irresponsible and overtly biased to me. And then to call them all Spitzers... Give me a break.

Chuck writes:

@NickK: Agreed.

wweddik writes:

And then to call them all Spitzers... Give me a break.

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