Democracy is also a form of religion. It is the worship of jackals by jackasses. - Mencken
Almost everyone likes to make fun of politicians. But Don Boudreaux has an amazingly clear argument confirming that politicians deserve our derision. Consider, Don asks, what Mencken's jackals do when they retire:
do virtually none of these politicians, when they leave office, found
their own non-political firms - firms that specialize neither in
granting clients access to incumbent politicians nor in projects that
depend upon getting subsidies or other favors from those same
This question occurred to me a few days ago upon hearing that former
president Bill Clinton... His career now is to make lots
of money as a sort of high-brow social healer - to emit platitudes,
attend state funerals, and (pardon my switch of imagery) be a show-pony
for politically correct causes. The post-Oval Office careers of every
other recent president - to the extent that they haven't simply retired
to the golf course or the study - have been largely the same...
But surely if, say, President Jimmy Carter was as smart and as full
of correct foresight as he would have had to be in order for sensible
people to take seriously his late-1970s pronouncements on the future of
America's energy economy, he could have made a personal fortune,
starting at 12:01pm on 20 January 1981, launching and running an energy
company (or, more precisely, a synthetic-energy company). Yet he didn't even try...
And what of Pres. Obama? Even if he wins a second term in the White
House, he'll be only 55 years old when he leaves office. Will he found
and run a health-insurance company? How about a 'green' energy firm?
Or will he, perhaps, found and run a firm specializing in offering
middle- and low-income Americans better and more fully disclosed access
to consumer credit? Will he create a successful automobile firm?
Don nobly proposes a bet:
I'll bet (seriously) a good deal of money that he'll do none of
these things. He'll not even try. And for good reason: not only does
he know nothing about these matters, he knows nothing about finding
investors willing to stake their own funds, or about finding skilled
workers and managers willing to cooperate together in such upstart
enterprises, so that such enterprises become realities with real
prospects for success.
He knows no more about the economic matters upon which he pronounces
than does a soap-opera actor portraying a physician know about
cardiology or obstetrics.
Of course, retired presidents make big money. But they do so as entertainers, not sages:
[Obama's] comparative advantage is as a talking show-pony, to trot out
onto the public stage to mouth platitudes, to declaim the splendid
ideas of his party, to decry the squalid ideas of the opposing party,
and, after he is relieved of the burdens of office, to make millions so
that people destitute of critical faculties can get cheap thrills - for
which they'll pay big bucks - by sitting for a few minutes in the same
room as a former president of the executive branch of the United States
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I can imagine being a liberal or a conservative. But I can't imagine being a Democrat or a Republican. With apologies to Groucho Marx, I don't care to belong to any club that would have a talking show-pony as a member - much less a leader.