David R. Henderson  

The Weiner Affair

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A Public Choice Moment

Like many people in the last few weeks, I have given into the temptation to make jokes or listen to jokes about Anthony Weiner. He has the perfect name, and the perfect story, to give rise (oh, there I go again) to those jokes. One my wife made up unintentionally, when she woke up Thursday, opened her computer, and read that Weiner was resigning, was "His goose is cooked."

But there's a bigger lesson here that is unlikely to be learned by many people and it's this: it's not a good idea to put important decisions about our lives in the hands of politicians. They don't have the expertise, they don't have the knowledge, and they don't have the incentive to make good decisions for us. Other than that, Mrs. Astor, how was our trip across the Atlantic?

One thing we learned from watching Weiner is how narcissistic he is. But be around politicians very much and you will find that, although he's extreme for his ilk, he's not as extreme as you might have thought. Politicians often start believing in their own invincibility. Are we really supposed to think that they don't also believe that they know enough to solve our problems?


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COMMENTS (9 to date)
Randy writes:

My take aways from this affair;

1. When normal people get caught doing something embarrasing, they hide - and when politicians get caught doing something embarrasing, they give a speech.

2. Politician do far worse (i.e., morally objectionable) things than what Weiner did nearly every day, and they're generally proud of it.

PrometheeFeu writes:

This whole affair is depressing. What Weiner did was perhaps not in the best of taste, (and definitely not a smart career move) but it was also not condemnable. The lying while not a good thing was also to be honest somewhat irrelevant. Given the way the media treat politicians in that kind of situation, I have no difficulty excusing this kind of lying. If you don't want to be lied to about matters that don't concern you, don't ask questions about matters that don't concern you. Yet, he was drummed out of Congress as though he had committed a capital offense.

On the other hand, politicians lie to us every day, enact policies that demonstrate nothing but stupidity and corruption and they get re-elected over and over again. Obama despite his campaign promises continues to hold people in detention without charges and without any habeas corpus rights. The department of defense and the department of homeland security both have instituted political reviews of FOIA requests making government transparency a joke. This administration has the record of prosecuting the largest number of whistle blowers. Let's not forget the previous administration that authorized torture. The "Gang of Eight" who knew and said nothing about illegal wiretapping program of the previous administration. The last Congress which granted immunity to telcos for participating in said illegal wiretapping program. How many of those issues have given rise to prosecutions? Convictions? "Ethics investigations"? How many people were drummed out of Congress for selling our liberties?

The depressing truth is that Don Boudreaux is right about the state of the electorate. Democracy does not lend itself to wise governance. It lends itself to sex scandals on the front page and crushed liberties being ignored.

MikeDC writes:

I think Weiner's actions should obviously be condemned, so sure, they're obviously indicative of his overall judgement.

1. Adult flirting with non-adult is a very bad thing.

2. It's also pretty clear that he couldn't seem to talk to women without going off the professional reservation. I point this out because it's more than just a minor problem.

To wit, I notice something similar when it comes to talking to economists, who tend to be a very male-heavy profession. Not that we go off harassing females, but I often hear or read stuff and think "no woman would say that" even though my suspicion is that women are just as capable of understanding economics as men. Somewhere, there's frequently a disconnect in how we talk about and interact with women.

PrometheeFeu writes:

@MikeDC:

Do you really believe that
1) It is per se inappropriate to send sexually explicit pictures of oneself to consenting adults?

2) The constant lying that politicians do on actually important issues that affect us all is not a more compelling reason to ask for their resignation than the fact that some of them sometimes send sexually explicit pictures of themselves to some consenting women?

3) Talking to some women in a non-professional manner indicates an inability to do so in general? (I would find myself surprised. I talk to many women in a very professional manner and to many others in a very unprofessional manner depending upon the circumstances and most importantly the particulars of our relationship)

Also, I find no evidence anywhere that he sent pictures to non-adults. The youngest I found was 21 which is quite old enough.

Finally, the way you start your comment: "I think Weiner's actions should obviously be condemned, so sure, they're obviously indicative of his overall judgement." seems to imply that the fact that an action by someone is condemnable in and of itself makes that action indicative of that person's overall judgement. Is that an inaccurate reading? Would you care to elaborate because that seems nonsensical to me?

MikeDC writes:

1. Sure, consenting adults should be free to trade about all the sexually explicit pics of themselves they want.

2. I don't care how many angels can fit on the head of a pin.

3. Well, yes, given the context we're discussing here, which is of a guy who serially appeared to take a somewhat official tool of his trade and use it for sex.

Let's approach this differently. When ask whether it is "inappropriate to send sexually explicit pictures of oneself to consenting adults", I take it as an implication that the receiver of the pic needs to consent. What constitutes consent?

That's not a loaded question, but I also don't think it's a simple one nor do I think casual conversation is an invitation to a crotch shot.

Regarding your final comment, what's nonsensical about using a person's behavior to evaluate their judgment? It seems nonsensical to do anything else; it'd be much sillier to say "I condemn the repeated stupid and inappropriate actions of this man, but do not question his judgement".

Obviously, a single action doesn't tell the whole story about someone's judgement, but from a Bayesian perspective, all we can do to predict the unseen variable (a person's judgement) is observe his actions (stupid) and adjust accordingly (lower our opinion somewhat).

Pink Slip writes:
"it's not a good idea to put important decisions about our lives in the hands of politicians. They don't have the expertise, they don't have the knowledge, and they don't have the incentive to make good decisions for us."

Did you really mean to make an argument against representative democracy?

David R. Henderson writes:

@Pink Slip,
No. I'm arguing against government making lots of decisions for our lives, whether those governments are democratically elected or dictators. My guess is that you agree that there should be limits on democracy.

PrometheeFeu writes:

@MikeDC:

OK, then I did misunderstand you. Your original post seemed to say that it was the condemnability of the actions of Weiner that meant they should reflect on his character which opened the door to the possibility that positive actions on his part would not deserve equal consideration in evaluating his character.

"Let's approach this differently. When ask whether it is "inappropriate to send sexually explicit pictures of oneself to consenting adults", I take it as an implication that the receiver of the pic needs to consent. What constitutes consent?"

I am not sure the receiver of the pic would need to consent. (From a moral/ethical standpoint, I understand the law says there must be consent) After all, naked pictures of yourself are nothing more than a form of speech. If I can send you a letter that says: "I hate you" why would it be wrong for me to send you a naked picture of myself? (Not that I plan on doing so, much to your chagrin I am sure...)

But setting that aside, I would say that the lack of complaint from these women would seem to imply consent on their part.

Randy writes:

@Pink Slip,

"Representative Democracy" is propaganda. I mean, the whole point of having an election is to determine who will be represented and who will not, and even then only the interests of the political class are ever truly represented.

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