We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

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Samizdata quote of the day

I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones that do violence to the Constitution, or that have failed in their purpose, or that impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden. I will not attempt to discover whether legislation is ‘needed’ before I have first determined whether it is constitutionally permissible. And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents’ ‘interests’, I shall reply that I was informed their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can.

- Barry Goldwater, US politician. As cited by David Mayer, over at his excellent blog.

46 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Jacob

    Parapharsing from the movie “The Bridges at Toko-ri“:
    “Where do we get such candidates?”

  • Frederick Davies

    Do not forget that he lost; admiring losers might feel good sometimes, but it is no way to get to power.

  • Do not forget that he lost; admiring losers might feel good sometimes, but it is no way to get to power.

    Meaning what? Getting into power is just a means to an end, not the end itself. If you vote for someone and they win and they then proceed to maintain the massive intrusive state (even if slightly less massive than the other guy), like, say, John McCain will do, the person you voted has ‘won’… but you lose regardless. Admiring winners who do wicked things is not very admirable.

  • Jacob

    Do not forget that he lost

    Barry Goldwater paved the way for Ronald Reagan.

  • Paul Marks

    When it comes to such things as opposing eth subsidies (in spite of the threat to votes and the threat to campaign contributions from people who are connected with the trade) and opposing the government “insurance” scum (in spite of the threat of losing Florida) and so on and so on…….. John McCain is in the tradition of Barry Goldwater.

    He is not as good – but he actually is in the same tradition, whereas George Bush is NOT.

    But there is a great difference in style and manner between Barry Goldwater and John McCain.

    Barry Goldwater was upright in posture – whereas McCain stands and moves in an uncomfortable way. I know it is not his fault that his body was broken by the plane crash and by the years of torture – but it still gives a bad impression.

    Also his way of dealing with people (the endless falling out with people who AGREE with him on basic policy) is irritating – to put it mildly.

  • Paul Marks

    On government spending.

    I believe that all 55 members of the House of the Representatives who got an “A” from the Taxpayers Union this year were Republicans – and they do not seem to have any problem in getting reelected.

    On the contrary it is the “practical” politicians (the ones who vote for every spending project going) who find themselves in trouble at election time.

    If only more Republicans were like the 55 in the House.

    On regulations – yes “repealing laws” is the key.

    Too often governments (including conservative governments such as the one headed by Mrs Thatcher) tend to react to problems created by government statutes by trying to divise new statutes – rather than repealing the existing ones.

    The same is true in the United States.

  • Jacob

    Barry Goldwater was upright in posture

    He was upright in more than one sense. He was honest and straight talking. A rare bird among politicians.

    John McCain is in the tradition of Barry Goldwater

    Sure, they’re both from Arizona.

  • renminbi

    Paul,just so. When Repubs do me too politics there is no reason to vote for them. I think of NJ,Virginia, and Ohio,the screw-up of them all.In all these states they had comfortable majorities. Behave like a Dem – well at that point might as well vote for the real thing.

  • Paul Marks

    renminbi – yes and some of the dislike of McCain by fellow Republicans was because he opposed their “earmarks” and opposed the absurd new government programs (such as non-child-left-behind and the Medicare extention) of the “compassionate Conservative” President Bush.

    Sadly the dislike of John McCain is NOT all based on the above – he is a difficult man to work with, and has great difficulty in admitting he is wrong about anything.

    A classic example is “campaign finance reform”.

    The absurd McCain-Feingold Act does not stop George Soros and the others supporting things like Moveon – and thus getting lots of people to get many millions of Dollars into the Obama campaign.

    But it does stop people like Steve Forbes giving more than a few thousand Dollars to the McCain campaign.

    But waiting for John McCain to say “I was wrong about Campaign Finance Reform” (even though it is so damaging to his own campaign) would be like waiting for Hell to freeze over.

  • toolkien

    It is sad to think that Goldwater’s thinking was much more prevelant at the turn of the century than it was even in his own time. Expressing such sentiments today put you squarely in the woolly headed margin of society. Socialism is now so fixed in people’s minds that anything that is not in the Modern Republican/Modern Democrat matrix (essentially the same but for a very few differences) is relegated to the shine runnin’, cousin marrin’ yokel.

  • comatus

    In a way I’m sorry to bring this up, since it exposes the true ‘soft underbelly’ of American politics to the world at large, but it must needs be said at last:

    Goldwater was an Air Force man.
    McCain is a Naviator.

    My work here is done.
    Good day to you all.

  • mishu

    and George Bush flew TANG. Let’s not forget President Thomas J. Whitmore. ;)

  • Socialism is now so fixed in people’s minds that anything that is not in the Modern Republican/Modern Democrat matrix (essentially the same but for a very few differences) is relegated to the shine runnin’, cousin marrin’ yokel.

    It was the same in the 1970ies, with Rockefeller Republicans being the same as Democrats, then along came Reagan from the dormant Goldwater wing of the party. We had Fred Thomson this year, though he failed to get the nomination.

  • M

    In practice, Reagan was a big-government conservative.

  • nick g.

    Whilst he sounds good, what was he like in whatever public offices he held? Promises are cheap- performance is character!

  • Sunfish

    Nick,
    Strangely enough, Goldwater usually did act like that in the Senate.

    A former coworker of mine tells a story about Goldwater. He reached legal voting age in 1964. At the time, he was told that if he voted for Goldwater, then he could expect to be drafted and sent to war.

    Guess what? He voted for B.G., and was subsequently drafted and sent to Vietnam.

    (The punch line is, Goldwater lost that election to Democrat incumbent Lyndon Johnson, one of the slimiest pieces of work ever to ooze out of Texas, but I digress.)

  • In practice, Reagan was a big-government conservative.

    Wrong. Reagan was a somewhat ineffective small government conservative.

  • renminbi

    Reagan was about as good as you could get, given our political system. Our taxes on capital were strangling our future and people were completely demoralised. The opposition controlled Congress. He did very well ,given the hand he was dealt, by picking his fights carefully.
    I am not disinterested in this: without the Reagan tax cuts I could not have left the Postal Service and started my own business.
    I am not sure Reagan wouldn’t have been smeared as effectively as Goldwater, and defeated, had not Carter been so egregiously incompetent. We owe much more to that ineffectual little man than is realised.

  • renminbi

    Reagan was about as good as you could get, given our political system. Our taxes on capital were strangling our future and people were completely demoralised. The opposition controlled Congress. He did very well ,given the hand he was dealt, by picking his fights carefully.
    I am not disinterested in this: without the Reagan tax cuts I could not have left the Postal Service and started my own business.
    I am not sure Reagan wouldn’t have been smeared as effectively as Goldwater, and defeated, had not Carter been so egregiously incompetent. We owe much more to that ineffectual little man than is realised.

  • toolkien

    somewhat ineffective small government conservative

    The debt exploded under Reagan. He may have talked a good talk, but when it came to actually reducing the effects of the New Deal and the Great Society, nothing was done other than to slash taxes and pay for the burgeoning Welfare Bill by borrowing. It was a primer on the Republican method taken to a ridiculous degree today.

    I remember under Bush I when the “hard” debt surpassed $1 Trillion Dollars. Seems quaint now with the $10 Trillion “hard” debt we have today. And now are to a point where we simply increase that debt by handing out “rebate” checks.

    Simply put, howling about small government while financing government operations through debt instead of taxation does nothing to reduce the size of government. Reagan was the first best chance to head off the disaster awaiting us when the Ponzi Scheme collapses, but did pretty much nothing. Now we’re twenty years on, borrowing continued apace, and now we have a $10 Trillion hard debt and a $53 Trillion accrual basis debt with the next President either Obama, Mc Cain, or Clinton, none of whom are going to make a serious dent whatsoever in the problem.

    The problem began with FDR, increased by LBJ, and Reagan could have headed it off, but didn’t. Perhaps he couldn’t, but then that just indicts the system as a whole as inexorably moving toward certain disaster, whether there is a Republican or Democrat in the White House. As it stands, since FDR, Reagan is deemed the most fiscally conservative President we’ve had which means little if he represents the most sensible person elected in the last seventy years. It’s not much of a legacy to say that you contributed the least increase to massive problem we have. A true legacy would have been to undo it. Being the least worst failure doesn’t make you much of a champion.

    A relatively unbiased look at the U.S. National debt

  • Frederick Davies

    Perry,

    Admiring winners who do wicked things is not very admirable.

    Maybe not, but admiring them for winning and learning from their methods may help your ideas more than wallowing in what might have been if the right man had been elected. No matter what you want, first you have to get elected.

    Meaning what?

    Meaning that Barry Goldwater may have been a good libertarian, but he lost, so he turned out to be a useless libertarian. If the libertarian movement ever wants to stop being a movement and have power, it is going to have to stop talking about Goldwater and start talking about the future.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    If the libertarian movement ever wants to stop being a movement and have power, it is going to have to stop talking about Goldwater and start talking about the future.

    I disagree. If it is going to have a future, it needs to talk about both. Without a grasp of history, of understanding of how and why we got here, a lot of our current energies will be wasted.

    I also do not see Goldwater as a failure, even though he lost the 1964 election. I hope you are not one of those people who argues that politicians should try to resemble each other or play to the mushy centre ground in order to trick the benighted electorate into voting for them.

    What Goldwater did was signal a crucial change in the post-war US political scene. He made discussion about rolling back the state discussable for a whole generation of young voters. Lots of people were influenced by him, and of course Reagan benefited from that.

    For those that attack Reagan on the deficits, I’d point out that deficits as a share of GDP during his tenure were not extremely out of line compared with other nations and his tax cuts played a huge part in boosting the economy. Reagan did fail to significantly control public spending, but he had to deal with a Democrat-led Congress.

  • Laird

    Toolkien, your rant indicates that you don’t really understand how the US government works. Yes, the federal debt “exploded” under Reagan, but there was nothing he could do about that. All spending is controlled by Congress; a president can do only two things: veto the bill and manage the spending. As to the former, given the massive “omnibus” spending bills sent to the President, vetoing one merely because it contains waste or funds some bad programs would shut down a major segment of the government and cause great harm (and wouldn’t work anyway; it would either be overridden or his party would shortly be out of power). As to the latter, one of Nixon’s unforgiveable legacies (Watergate is not among them!) was that he permitted passage of a law which prohibits the administration from declining to spend money which has been appropriated. Not only is there no “line-item veto” (and there should be), but the President’s power to impound funds has been eliminated. So the blame for runaway spending, and massive debt, belongs squarely and solely on the Congress.

    Reagan pushed through tax cuts which saved the economy, and he was promised that spending cuts would follow. He was lied to. That’s not his fault.

  • M

    Although the Reagan administration did cut taxes, it offset these cuts by increasing other taxes. Rather than ‘reform’ social security in any meaningful way, social ‘insurance premiums’ (ie taxes) were increased. The bipartisan 1986 Tax Reform Act in effect increased taxes, and Bush I shelved plans to cut capital gains tax because he feared it did not fit in with the supposed ‘tax fairness’ apparently brought in by that Act.

  • M

    So the blame for runaway spending, and massive debt, belongs squarely and solely on the Congress.

    Considering how Reagan lobbied good and hard for vast increases in military spending, this is not true. You may be for or against such increases in spending, but you can’t deny that they added to the ‘runaway spending, and massive debt’.

    I’d point out that deficits as a share of GDP during his tenure were not extremely out of line compared with other nations

    In other words, Reagan was just like the rest of the politicians elsewhere. Hardly makes him a hero.

  • toolkien

    Toolkien, your rant indicates that you don’t really understand how the US government works. Yes, the federal debt “exploded” under Reagan, but there was nothing he could do about that.

    Reagan pushed through tax cuts which saved the economy, and he was promised that spending cuts would follow. He was lied to. That’s not his fault.

    The man is praised for what he accomplished, but never gets criticism for what he didn’t. When he is praised, civics is out the window, but criticize him, and a lesson on the three branches of government is forthcoming. On the one hand he’s a powerful leader of men, and on the other he was sadly duped. OK.

    Perhaps he should have cut spending first, before cutting taxes. But I guess that all just merely proves the point of how bad governments work. You can always sell lower taxes to the people, and you can always sell more handouts too. But the two don’t ever go together. No matter how the circumstances worked themselves out, the fact remains that taxes were cut somewhat, and spending ballooned (the first wave of the New Deal hit). So he saved the economy by allowing the non-intragovernmental debt to triple in 8 years. Great. I guess Keynes would be proud. Of course he gets praise for one side of the equation, and everyone else takes the blame for the otherside.

    Anyway, how’s this for compromise? If Reagan doesn’t take the full blame for contributing to the predicament we find ourselves in, can we at least not deify him? It still stands that at best he was the least worst in practicality, rhetoric aside.

    He should not be warmly praised for his words, but what he accomplished, and at the end of the day he accomplished very little. Our high times we’ve had starting in 1982 (but for a couple of bumps) has all been accomplished by letting the debt skyrocket. Deluding people into a false sense of security by cutting taxes while borrowing more simply is using a collective credit card to pay the bills. Proponents of this “borrowing that you never have to pay back” that began under Reagan is hardly libertarian or even minarchic. It is solid Statism at its most rank.

    At the end of the day, success for libertarians or minarchists has to be measured by changing the mentality that you can have endless entitlements and low taxes. You simply can’t. And while a generation of Reaganites talked about slashing this and slashing that, nothing actually was, because at the end of the day, they are selling promises for votes, and their words were nothing more than rhetoric. In retrospect, I find very little evidence that people had a solid understanding of their economic situation individually and collectively. The idea that we could have low taxes and high spending was never crushed, it was merely papered over with bonds.

    All politicians sell promises for votes, of course, and we’ve had the better part of seven decades of Democrats promising more handouts, with the Republicans doing little to cut it off, and the Republicans promising more tax cuts, with the Democrats doing little do much about deficits and the debt (and now the Republicans talk both, increasing handouts AND cutting taxes). It’s been a symbiotic relationship of a 1984ish tint. Reagan ultimately should not be credited with a fierce attack on this matrix, he ended up being fully a part of it. Either he was a willing, educated member of it, or he was lied to and eminently gullible. Which is it? He can’t be both, and only when it suits.

    ——————————————

    If it helps any, I am a former solid Republican. But seeing the effects of seven decades of mismanagement at the Federal level, it is impossible for me to not blame the whole lineage of what led us here. It does little to debate the wonder that was Reagan, when we now sit with a time bomb that is poised to go off. And knowing that the last best chance to defuse it without any major backlash slipped through the hands of a Republican Presidency. From there, with continued exploitation of government debt, it is now only a matter of how much damage we will get. We only have a short to time to attempt to minimize the damage, and soon there won’t be any. I see very little practical difference Reagan ultimately made. I can’t even use old Republican sentiments to work up any support for what ultimately happened in those eight years. It merely passed the buck on to the future, and made the time bomb more powerful.

    Full circle back to the topic, and perhaps revealing why Reagan was doomed to failure, is Reagan was no Goldwater. Goldwater, unfortunately, was a bit of a dinosaur in his own time, post FDR. If Goldwater was unable to secure the White House in the early 60′s, it can only mean that Reagan was going to be highly limited at what he could actually accomplish. The ire I have is that some insist on praising him for something he ultimately didn’t do, whether his heart was in the right place or not.

  • jk

    I’m with Frederick Davies. Goldwater was great (One still sees AuH2O bumper stickers), but he lost in a landslide.

    Perry thinks it’s okay that Goldwater could walk around feeling proud of themselves, but the purist libertarians never mention the other candidates. Goldwater lost to LBJ, second only to FDR as an expander of government.

    The votes are not there to elect a Goldwater (or a Phil Gramm or Jeff Flake). I can list plenty of disagreements with Senator McCain but I will not apologize for supporting a free-trader and tax cutter against one of two protectionists who have both vowed to raise taxes.

  • Frederick Davies

    Johnathan Pearce,

    I disagree. If it is going to have a future, it needs to talk about both. Without a grasp of history, of understanding of how and why we got here, a lot of our current energies will be wasted.

    Do not try to flog the value of History to me: you are preaching to the converted. But that does not mean the voters are interested, and if they are not, then it is a waste of time. Period.
    Talking about how Goldwater was such a good libertarian candidate is just written masturbation: very pleasurable, but ultimately sterile. If you want to “grasp history” you should be talking about why he lost, not about how nice a President he would have been. You should be talking about the mistakes that made his campaign a failure, the demographics, the way his opponent won…

    I also do not see Goldwater as a failure, even though he lost the 1964 election.

    “There is no substitute for victory.”
    General Douglas MacArthur

    I hope you are not one of those people who argues that politicians should try to resemble each other or play to the mushy centre ground in order to trick the benighted electorate into voting for them.

    To do the right thing you first have to get elected; there are no excuses for the also-ran.

    What Goldwater did was signal a crucial change in the post-war US political scene. He made discussion about rolling back the state discussable for a whole generation of young voters. Lots of people were influenced by him, and of course Reagan benefited from that.

    If he had got elected and done it, rather than talked about it, there would have been no need for Reagan.

  • Midwesterner

    Laird and Toolkien,

    There was monitizing going on throughout the entire time after the end of Bretton-Woods (~1970). If you look at the historical price of gold you will see that it was going through the roof.

    What Reagan & Co. did was the rather clever switch of moving private savings reserves from gold and stocks (in other words, ‘real’ stuff), to US government debt. ‘Good as gold’ became ‘backed by the US government’. The price of gold came down in a notably close mirror to the Treasury sucking up cash with government debt IOUs.

    The US government in 1980 faced a decision that was inevitable from the time we went from real gold to a gold ‘standard’. Growth of the fiat money supply had destroyed Bretton-Woods (the gold standard) and the money supply growth kept on going. The skyrocketing price of gold through the ’70s was the most obvious symptom. The choice was either to stop the policy and practice of perpetual currency inflation or create a sponge to soak up new cash.

    US government debt was/is that sponge.

  • Laird

    Toolkien, there’s a lot in you post whith which I agree, but you missed my primary point: Reagan was trying to cut government, not grow it (except for the military, as you note, but I would posit that this is the principal legitimate function of a national government and it had been sorely neglected in previous administrations). At the beginning of his presidency the Democrats controlling Congress were reeling; Reagan “rode the wave” and got both tax cuts and a promise of corresponding spending cuts in future years (spending budgets are necessarily longer-term creatures than tax rates). However, when it came time for Congress to deliver on the spending cuts the Democrats had regrouped and regained their nerve, and they stuck their collective finger in his eye (i.e., they welshed on their promises). By then the momentum was gone and until Newt Gingrich & Company retook the Congress during Clinton’s first term they controlled all spending. Thanks to Nixon (as I said before), the President’s hands were tied and he could do absolutely nothing to control spending other than “jawbone” the Congress (which was a total waste of time).

    I don’t “deify” Reagan, but I do maintain that he was probably the best president since WWI. And the idea of “starving” Congress to force spending cuts seemed rational; who knew (then) that they were such fools?

  • Laird

    Midwesterner, we’re moving a little away from my comfort areas here, but my understanding is that it was Nixon (in another of his unpardonable sins!) who took the nation off the gold standard by eliminating the convertability of dollars into gold at a fixed rate. He also conveniently failed to eliminate the prohibition on private ownership of gold, which had been implemented by F.D. Roosevelt (that ban was finally eliminated by Gerald Ford). All of that was before Reagan’s time. So I’m not sure what you’re blaming Reagan for in this context (other than simply being President while the Congress was ballooning spending and the federal debt).

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Frederick, your reasoning strikes me as missing the point rather. Let’s try again:

    Do not try to flog the value of History to me: you are preaching to the converted. But that does not mean the voters are interested, and if they are not, then it is a waste of time. Period.

    Well if you want to go on the basis that voters are ignorant fools liable to be charmed by the latest machine politician on the block, then you might as well give up now.

    Talking about how Goldwater was such a good libertarian candidate is just written masturbation: very pleasurable, but ultimately sterile.

    Excuse me, but on that basis, all journalism, commentary, etc, falls into that category. By pointing out to voters that politicians have not always argued for a deadening statist middle ground, it helps to broaden the sense of what is doable.

    You should be talking about the mistakes that made his campaign a failure, the demographics, the way his opponent won…

    LBJ won because:
    Natural sympathy for the party of the murdered JFK.
    Voter desire to pass civil rights legislation.
    Voter desire to fleece their fellows through the “Great Society” experiment in massive welfare expansion.
    Many voters are ignorant.
    Many voters were scared of the Cold War, and believed Goldwater was a dangerous nut.
    LBJ was a brilliant slimer of his opponents, a total arse, in fact.

    “There is no substitute for victory.”

    This is nothing more than “winning at all costs”. What, even if the guy who is elected is identical in key respects to the other side? What’s the point? You are not justifying this on a very elevated level, if I may say so. You’re just saying, “Get the guy elected, even on a false promise, and then really get to work”.

  • Midwesterner

    Laird,

    I detest Nixon on many grounds (all?) but in this case, Nixon had no choice. I suspect it was Johnson’s Great Society programs that doomed the US gold standard. Even under the gold standard, private citizens were not allowed to convert dollars into gold in any case. That was for inter-currency exchanges between governments.

    Also, I can’t remember whether you have been present for the discussions or not, but some of us (at least Paul Marks and I) draw a huge distinction between ‘gold’ (or gold backed) and ‘gold standard’. A gold standard is still a fiat currency, meaning there is no limit to how much a government prints so long as they will forex it at the ‘gold standard’ rate. My presumption is that so much printing was going on that Nixon was unable to honor the gold standard so had no choice in the matter.

    Nixon not eliminating the prohibition on private gold probably meant he understood what would happen if he did. Gerald Ford eliminating it probably meant he did not. Ronald Reagan inventing government debt as a savings and investment commodity (prior to this, buying government debt was mostly sold as a patriotic thing to do in time of war, see Uncle Sam selling ‘war bonds’) meant that he understood the need to either stop the inflation of the $ or invent a sponge to soak up the surplus dollars. He chose the sponge and inflation went underground. That is to say, with government debt soaking up the inflated dollars, the true rate of dollar inflation remained hidden to the casual observer (and a few others as well).

    What Reagan did (I am a Reagan fan on foreign policy and personal liberty, but certainly not on financial policy) was to enable the government to go on spending by opening a line of credit. He is the president who put the US government on a credit card as a matter of peace time policy. He found and tapped a new barrel so the lush didn’t need to sober up.

  • Midwesterner

    On Goldwater v Johnson. I remember sitting in my grade school class in the city of Chicago and the teacher held the election in the class. Of all of the students in the very oversize Chicago public school system class room, I and perhaps one other were the only votes for Goldwater.

    That election really was the embodiment of the quote in Perry’s email tag line:

    The state is the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else
    - Frederic Bastiat

  • M

    I am a Reagan fan on foreign policy and personal liberty

    Considering Reagan was a hardline drug prohibitionist , I don’t really consider Reagan as being very good for personal liberty.

  • Midwesterner

    M,

    Don’t confuse what a politician wants the state to do with how they want the state to do it. If Reagan took one thing from Goldwater, it was the idea that there are limits on what a government may do. Few other presidents including both of the Bushes have accepted much less espoused that concept.

    Having presidents willing to accept limits on government power as an underlying principle is an essential precedent before convincing them of what those limits should be. I don’t think any of the three current candidates are willing to accept limits as a concept. All three of them believe that if what they want is right, then there should be no restrictions on what may be done to achieve it.

  • Frederick Davies

    Johnathan Pearce,

    Well if you want to go on the basis that voters are ignorant fools…then you might as well give up now.

    Not “ignorant fools”, just irrational voters. Bryan Caplan proposes in his book “The Myth of the Rational Voter”, that people behave in an irrational manner when they vote because of the low probability that their vote will be the casting one in any election. That, coupled with the psychological boost their support for their prefered worldview gives them, means they will rather vote for policies that “feel right” rather than policies that “are right”.

    Excuse me, but on that basis, all journalism, commentary, etc, falls into that category.

    No, not all journalism/commentary, just most of it. There are still some pieces that provide insights you did not know beforehand (for example, that info above on the fact that the US Federal Government cannot choose not to spend the money it has been given; I did not know that). Besides, this is not a newspaper, this is a blog; why should we do things as they do?

    By pointing out to voters that politicians have not always argued for a deadening statist middle ground, it helps to broaden the sense of what is doable.

    No, it just makes them disconnect and stop listening. People have biases, if you go directly against them, they will not rationally consider them, they will just ignore them.

    LBJ won because:
    Natural sympathy for the party of the murdered JFK.

    So, the libertarian wing of the Republican Party was allowed to get a candidate in because all the other wings thought this was a lost election. Maybe the libertarians should have allowed someone else be the one who lost by a landslide. Bad tactical choice.

    Voter desire to pass civil rights legislation.
    Voter desire to fleece their fellows through the “Great Society” experiment in massive welfare expansion.

    How did these desires got created and fomented? Maybe he should have tried something similar. Lack of strategic imagination.

    Many voters are ignorant.

    Weren’t you against this kind of thinking above?

    Many voters were scared of the Cold War, and believed Goldwater was a dangerous nut.

    What made him look like a “dangerous nut”? Bad campaigning strategy.

    LBJ was a brilliant slimer of his opponents, a total arse, in fact.

    Maybe Goldwater need a few slimers himself. Bad team organization.

    You are not justifying this on a very elevated level, if I may say so.

    Who ever said politics is an “elevated” business? You are being a bit naive, if I may say so.

    You’re just saying, “Get the guy elected, even on a false promise, and then really get to work”.

    First, the promises made at elections are not the only policies that happen; neither Bush II planned for 9/11 nor Thatcher for the Falklands, but their responses to those defined their premierships anyway. Having someone with the right instints on top, even if his election programme is not what he really desires, has its advantages.
    “Event, dear boy, events.” Harold MacMillan.

    Second, most elections hinge on a few salient policies; get those right, and you can do whatever else you want (or, at least, you will be given the benefit of the doubt).

    Third, and why not? If it is the only way to do it…

  • Laird

    Johnathan Pearce: Well if you want to go on the basis that voters are ignorant fools . . then you might as well give up now.

    Frederick Davies: Not “ignorant fools”, just irrational voters.

    Well, both, really. I haven’t read the Caplan book, although from your summary his thesis seems plausible. But a large percentage of voters (at least in the US) clearly are ignorant, and I posit that a substantial number are outright fools, too.

  • Laird

    So we’re doomed. What else is new?

  • Johnathan Pearce

    People have biases, if you go directly against them, they will not rationally consider them, they will just ignore them.

    So we just pander to those biases, then? We just tell people what they want to hear? Surely we can be a tad more ambitious than that.

    First, the promises made at elections are not the only policies that happen; neither Bush II planned for 9/11 nor Thatcher for the Falklands, but their responses to those defined their premierships anyway. Having someone with the right instints on top, even if his election programme is not what he really desires, has its advantages.

    On that basis, voting for a politician is a total gamble; how do you know what the “instincts” of a politician are? This leads of course to people voting for smooth-talking charlatans who might look good on TV or look sincere, or some such bollocks.

    Second, most elections hinge on a few salient policies; get those right, and you can do whatever else you want (or, at least, you will be given the benefit of the doubt).

    Well indeed. I would not disagree.

  • Frederick Davies

    Johnathan Pearce,

    So we just pander to those biases, then? We just tell people what they want to hear? Surely we can be a tad more ambitious than that.

    Goldwater was “a tad more ambitious than that”; he did not get anywhere. Ron Paul was also “a tad more ambitious than that”; he has not got anywhere too. Repeatedly hitting your head on a block of granite is not only painful, but also futile; it is better to take a shovel and dig around the edges to make it shift.
    Also, you can make two of their biases contradict each other. For example, the Americans love their cheap petrol, and the Americans love their wilderness; right now those two biases oppose each other, so use it to attack the EPA.
    There is always a way, but you have to stop talking about reducing the size of government for its own sake, because people are not interested in philosophies, but in practicalities. Also you have to be realistic on the shortcomings of Libertarianism (if it were such an appealling philosophy, how come it has never been in power?).

    Well indeed. I would not disagree.

    Well, then, find out what the people want most, promise it, implement it is the less-damaging way possible, and do the right thing in the areas you did not promise anything. If you are half-competent, you will get elected again, and this time you will have less constraits. Be methodic instead of radical.

    On that basis, voting for a politician is a total gamble; how do you know what the “instincts” of a politician are? This leads of course to people voting for smooth-talking charlatans who might look good on TV or look sincere, or some such bollocks.

    And isn’t that how it is actually working? You do not do politics with the voters you would like to have, but with the voters you actually got.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    You do not do politics with the voters you would like to have, but with the voters you actually got.

    But of course. But then, as I keep pointing out (like banging my head against a brick wall), if a politician lacks the guts to set out a set of ideas, the public won’t know what they want. The general public rarely walk around with a full set of policy requests in their heads. Politicians in some sense are a bit like entrepreneurs: the really clever ones try to awaken a set of demands that the public did not know they had.

    There is always a way, but you have to stop talking about reducing the size of government for its own sake, because people are not interested in philosophies, but in practicalities.

    I don’t disagree that politicians need to frame their arguments to that people can see the direct benefits to them of policy A or B. There is no reason why a tolerably competent person cannot do that.

    You mention Ron Paul. I suspect that even before his unsavoury past caught up with him, his hard-line isolationist views on foreign policy and inability to explain the practical benefits of his views sank his campaign. A pity.

    I am afraid your argument looks like little more than saying that “we need to trim a bit here, add a bit there” sort of stuff we have right now. And how’s that working out for us?

  • Frederick Davies

    Johnathan Pearce,

    But of course. But then, as I keep pointing out (like banging my head against a brick wall), if a politician lacks the guts to set out a set of ideas, the public won’t know what they want.

    The public may not know what they want, but they do know what they do not want. You can moan all you want about the inefficiency of the NHS, on how other ways of providing healthcare have been proven to work better and more cheaply; but go out there and mention “NHS” and “privatization” on the same sentence and you are finished as far as most British voters are concerned. It is not that they disagree with you; they are just not listening to you.

    The general public rarely walk around with a full set of policy requests in their heads.

    No, but they walk around with a specific worldview that shapes and overrules their thoughts on policy. If your policies go against their worldview, they will ignore you no matter how much you reason or cajole them. An example from “The Myth of the Rational Voter”: economists have known since the middle of the XIX century that free trade is good; it is good for your country even if other nations do not practice it. It is one of the few things economists agree on; comparative advantage has been taught on faculties for more than a century and repeated by any economist who has ever been asked on and off camera. Yet, do you think the average voter agrees? No, free trade goes against most voters’ anti-foreign bias, and it just does not get through.
    Do you think you have a century to waste trying to reason with voters about the right size of government? Get over it; humans are not rational beings, they have never been rational beings, and they will never be rational beings. Teaching voters about the truths of the World will never make them vote for you; making them feel good about their votes will.

    Politicians in some sense are a bit like entrepreneurs: the really clever ones try to awaken a set of demands that the public did not know they had.

    Do not compare consumers with voters; the value of a product and that of a vote are completely different things. That is why people who make perfectly rational decisions concerning their money will still behave irrationally when it comes to voting.

    I don’t disagree that politicians need to frame their arguments to that people can see the direct benefits to them of policy A or B. There is no reason why a tolerably competent person cannot do that.

    OK, let’s suppose that Goldwater was the starting point of modern moderate libertarianism in the USA; that was ~45 years ago. In those 45 years (almost two generations), the only president that got even close to being libertarian is Ronald Reagan, and he did not manage to reduce the size of government at all, just reduced the size of the taxation by incurring in some debt. That is all there is to show for the last 45 years; what makes you suppose that in the next 45 years you are going to get luckier? Maybe it is not a problem with the politicians, but with the ideas. At which point do you stop and think: “This is not working, we have to try something different.”

    I am afraid your argument looks like little more than saying that “we need to trim a bit here, add a bit there” sort of stuff we have right now. And how’s that working out for us?

    No, my argument is that while we uselessly trim here and there we are in power, and opportunities will present themselves to be more radical; but first YOU HAVE TO BE IN POWER. During Thatcher’s first term, she did not do much in the way of opposing the unions, privatize the economy, or winning the Cold War; she just tried to apply the harsh economic policies previous governments had not had the courage to apply. Past the middle of that term, unemployment was on the increase, the economy was not recovering (yet), and the Conservatives were staring defeat in the face. Then the Argentinians invaded the Falklands and the rest is History. Thatcher took the highly opportunistic decision to go to the polls just after winning the war, and she was perhaps the only Prime Minister that got re-elected while unemployment was up. THEN she got to do all the things she really wanted.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    You can moan all you want about the inefficiency of the NHS, on how other ways of providing healthcare have been proven to work better and more cheaply; but go out there and mention “NHS” and “privatization” on the same sentence and you are finished as far as most British voters are concerned. It is not that they disagree with you; they are just not listening to you.

    In other words, give up and go along with the current, statist clusterfuck?

    No, my argument is that while we uselessly trim here and there we are in power, and opportunities will present themselves to be more radical; but first YOU HAVE TO BE IN POWER.

    So in other words, when running for office, lie to the public about what you would like to do. The problem with this sly strategy is that when a party tries something radical, and the public does not like it, those in power get thrown out unless one has been able to shift the minds of the voters.

  • Paul Marks

    Ronald Reagan’s cuts in tax rates did NOT reduce government revenue.

    Yes he did increase defence spending – it was the Cold War.

    Ronald Reagan did manage to get some cuts in somedomestic programs (in spite of the House being under the control fo the Democrats) – for example the percentage of State and local goverment spending financed by the Federal taxpayer went DOWN under Ronald Reagan.

    The only President in my life time of whom that is true.

    As for Republicans being the same as Democrats.

    For many that is true (ish) – but all the minority of anti government spending people in both the Senate and the House are Republicans.

    And as for McCain versus Obama or Clinton.

    Will people never look at voting records?

  • Paul Marks

    Barry Goldwater the “useless” libertarian.

    Well Goldwater got about 40% of the vote in 1964 (in the teeth of media opposition – and no debates with Johnson).

    The Libertarian party has never got more than 1% for a candidate for President.

    So who exactly is “useless”?

    “You are useless if you do not win” – if that is the line then why bother with any principles at all.

    Just promise everyone everything (and NO you will not be able to chance your tune once elected – one can not promise more spending and then cut spending, promise more regulations and then deregulate) – get elected and be the political leader of a country going into the slime.

    Very “useful”.

    All a man can do is tell the truth – as clearly as he can.

    40% means the message got out.

    That is was not 51% was not the fault of Goldwater – a better speaking style would not have got him over the 50% point.

    In the end the voters do have some responsibilty for how they vote.