Arnold Kling  

Politics Channels Hatred

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In Capitalism and Freedom, Milton Friedman wrote,


What the market does is to reduce greatly the range of issues that must be decided through political means

Thanks to Don Boudreaux for the pointer.

Those who prefer government to markets will argue that markets embody greed. Thus, markets channel a base emotion. Still, one can say that it is more constructive to channel greed through markets than through thievery.

What I want to suggest is that government embodies an even more base emotion: hatred. Politics channels the base emotion of hatred. A lot of political actions derive from hatred of the other. Still, one can say that it is more constructive to channel hatred through political action than through war.

Between now and the election this November, you might think about viewing politics as an exercise in the expression of hatred. Think of this when you read Krulong or listen to Limbannity. Watch the extent to which the Republican and Democratic conventions turn into hatefests. Think about Republicans bashing illegal immigrants or Democrats bashing Chick-Fil-A.

I do not think that you can say that the only thing that motivates people in politics is hatred. For that matter, one cannot say that the only thing that motivates people in markets is greed. But I do think that ignoring the role that hatred plays in politics is as unwise as ignoring the role that greed plays in markets.

Like Milton Friedman, I prefer to keep the scope of politics limited.


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CATEGORIES: Political Economy



COMMENTS (15 to date)
Adam writes:

I don't know about hatred. What they embody is forced collective decisionmaking, regardless of whether or not it is necessary.

The EconTalk with Clay Shirky provides a good example of what I think Friedman was getting at; if the whole country had to vote on which movies would be allowed in theaters then individual preferences would be ignored and those who lost would become increasingly resentful.

Jeff writes:

I agree completely, but I would add that politics doesn't just channel hatred, it channels greed as well, and usually not in a healthy way, either. It's a system that lends itself quite well to organized theft, also. For examples of this, see Solyndra and the related green energy scams, much of the military-industrial complex, Medicare and its inability to not get robbed by every dim-witted clown who flunked out of nursing school, etc.

Not only is democratic politics the systematic organization of hatreds, but of theft, extortion, and embezzlement, also.

Steve writes:

Arnold - "We" (you professors at the Library of Economics & Liberty - and those of us who have been your students for many years) need to banish the word "greed" from our economic lexicon and replace it with "self-interest." Maybe over time, our explanations of how markets operate based on self-interest would give less opportunity for politicians to play to division, hate and envy to win votes.

jc writes:

Humans have inbuilt urges that manifest themselves in different ways, depending on their environment.

One of these is looking down upon those that are different (out-group) and/or doing things you disapprove of (sinners, so to speak). There's a part of many of us that enjoys putting others down and, when we can, either punishing them for not thinking or behaving as we'd prefer, or dominating and coercing them into some state of compliance.

Many of us also enjoy: (a) affirmation that we are special and (b) the existence of a good leader who will lead us, while affirming us and punishing those we consider to be heathen (or forcing compliance).

On the right, this urge sometimes manifests itself as religious extremism. On the left, the tool for affirmation while punishing others or compelling them to do what we think is proper, is often government. God (or benevolent govt. leaders) loves me but hates you, He (or they) guides us but you will not listen, you should be punished and/or forced to obey us. We are enlightened and of good heart. You are...what's the word...oh yeah, there are two of them: stupid and evil. (I can hear Tyler Cowen channeling Schumpeter and saying, "I can hear your IQ dropping.")

I'm not saying, of course, that one is wrong to worship God or believe in government. Most are able to do so just fine. I'm merely saying that urges have outlets, this is a strong urge, and these are two outlets sometimes used by extremists who enjoy hate and domination. The extreme religious right and left; same people, in this respect, who merely found different outlets.

Perhaps someday we will find better outlets for the more enthusiastic among us in this regard. One may argue that sports are a good outlet for the tendency to form in-groups and go to war. Yankees fans and Red Sox fans are better than ethnic cleansers. Perhaps a better outlet exists for the urge to dominate? (Heck, maybe watching Fox News or MSNBC *is* the equivalent of watching a baseball game...as long as those fans don't get to dominate the rest of us at the ballot box.)

(Btw, I'm not saying these urges aren't useful when kept in check. There's something to be said for group cohesiveness. Punishing defectors - and punishing those that refuse to punish even more so than actual defectors - is probably in our DNA for a reason. Or maybe it's not as helpful today, e.g., Savannah Principle and our love of sugar and fat, I don't know...)

Aidan writes:

Greed and self-interest are not equivalent: http://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/2009/11/greed-versus-selfinterest.html

It is possible to be greedy while not acting in your best self-interest and you can act in your best self-interest without being greedy. There is no reason to banish the word greed or pretend it is equivalent to self-interest. This cuts both ways - we shouldn't attribute greed to actors pursuing their self-interest and we shouldn't excuse greed by claiming it is no morally different from self-interest.

Philo writes:

In a democracy the voters, as individuals, do not have to bear the social costs of their decisions. This encourages them to express various emotions that, while passionate enough, are shallow, in the sense that the individual is not really willing to act on them unless he can do so very cheaply (to himself). Besides hatreds, they include nicer emotions that favor the poor and unfortunate, species threatened with extinction, etc. Many of the actions that naturally express these emotions produce enormous social costs which, however, are not borne by the voters as individuals. The market comes much closer to equalizing social costs with the costs borne by the decision-maker.

Michael Rulle writes:

My first premise is not "business greed" and "politics hatred" (Krulong and Limbannity made me laugh out loud). My first premise is that, on average, with some kind of normally distributed function to account for "range" and "standard error", all people contain the same amount of greed, the same amount of hatred, and the same amount of good. But not the same values or the same position relative to their self interests. Hence politics.

Politics are part of human nature. At the extremes it can be crucial (think Civil War) while at other times remarkably trivial (think the Clinton impeachment). And at many points in between. But to your point, I believe Krauthammer said that one can never truly understand politics without first understanding that the Left will always believe the Right are evil; and the Right will always believe the Left are stupid. He, like you, was expressing his exasperation through sarcasm and humor.

I am glad you do.

Chris Koresko writes:

Arnold Kling: What I want to suggest is that government embodies an even more base emotion: hatred. Politics channels the base emotion of hatred. A lot of political actions derive from hatred of the other.

I think you're being too cynical here. It seems more likely that what we're seeing is collective decision-making pitting one interest against another, together with the natural human tendency to mistake one's self-interest for a moral imperative. (Think about how often a child will scream “not fair!” when he doesn't get what he wants. As adults we often do much the same, but with more sophisticated language.)

Arnold Kling: Watch the extent to which the Republican and Democratic conventions turn into hatefests. Think about Republicans bashing illegal immigrants or Democrats bashing Chick-Fil-A.

There's a danger here in assuming a moral equivalence that doesn't exist. Notice that in these two examples, illegal immigration and the withholding of business licenses to spite a private citizen with whose personal opinions a government official disagrees, with are both violations of the law.

Steve: "We" ... need to banish the word "greed" from our economic lexicon and replace it with "self-interest." Maybe over time, our explanations of how markets operate based on self-interest would give less opportunity for politicians to play to division, hate and envy to win votes.

Agreed! A better use of “greed” is to describe an active desire for and attempt to acquire un-earned benefits.

Let's also stop using the word “inequality” to describe the quantitative variation between personal incomes: Its true meaning in American politics is the qualitative condition of possessing an identical set of God-given rights as part of our human nature.

hanmeng writes:

While hatred shows itself in the way political hacks will pardon their own candidates for committing the same sins their opponents did, a lot of harm is also caused by rent-seeking: "Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else." And while I may want to kick back and enjoy myself at the expense of others, I don't necessarily hate them.

blink writes:

Well, now you just need a theory of hatred. Why does it exist (exogenously?) and need to be channeled? Perhaps affiliation, status, and signaling better describe the underlying motivations. As for war, commandeering resources seems much more salient as a cause than a vague notion of hatred.

Gian writes:

Politics is inevitable, particularly in a republic.
Politics is about competing notions of Good and is ideally carried out using rational arguments. Libertarianism is itself a political argument with its own notion of Good.

Self-interest requires a rational appraisal and if sufficiently enlightened, is just common good.
The economists find it simpler to substitute for it the 'satisfaction of desires'. Now desires are not always rational and thus an untrammeled market economy introduces an element of irrationality into the State.

Property is rational but territory is animal. But both are indispensable as an reflection of the dual nature of man as a rational animal.

Property is which that is secured by laws and territory is which that is secured by force. Historically and logically, territory precedes property.

Property, being a lawful claim, is in the nature of an argument. The universe of such arguments pertaining to a particular state is that state. Being lawful, property must not be stolen.

Sovereignty is pure assertion thus we speak not of property but of territory. A territory can not be stolen but conquered. Unlike thefts, conquests are not illicit in themselves,

Hume writes:

Reminds me of Hayek's brief discussion of purpose-based politics and the promotion of a politic of the "friend-enemy relation". See Hayek, L,L and L, Volume 2, at 144.

GudEnuf writes:

I'm sorry, who is Krulong supposed to be?

Arnold Kling writes:

Krulong = Paul Krugman + Brad DeLong

Jardinero1 writes:

This is a case where those opposed to markets change words and definitions to create a false argument. I don't accept the notion that markets embody greed. I am not sure how you get to greed from the simple case of two or more parties engaged in free exchange. Market participants are constrained by the need to make a profit but that is not the same thing as greed.

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