Occasionally some inquisitive mind would enquire from me as to why I so deeply distrust government. Surely, they argue, government is nothing more sinister than a collection of elected officials whose task it is to represent the interests of their electorate? After all, if the citizenry of a nation has no confidence in their elected representatives, they would see them removed from office through the popular vote and replaced by more competent officials.
This argument is, of course, highly naïve. The economic definition of a politician is a “vote maximising agent”. As stated the very purpose of a politician’s existence is to maximise the amount of votes they receive. This can be done through legitimate methods such as offering real and practical solutions to the many problems facing society, or by presenting alternative and unique approaches to issues that other candidates have been unable to effectively address. If a politician succeeds in maximising their votes, they may find themselves elected to an official position, and so doing reap the rewards of it: power, prestige, and wealth.
Problems facing society are almost always complex and long-term in nature, and it is highly unlikely that any short-term solution would succeed in addressing them effectively. When one considers that the average politician, once elected, can never be sure that they will spend more than one term in office, it is highly unlikely that they will propose genuine (and frequently unpopular or politically risky) solutions to address these problems effectively. It would serve their aims more effectively to instead present plans which grossly exaggerate performance and wholly underestimate difficulties. This is something we are all painfully familiar with.
So powerful is the allure of power, prestige, and money that more often than not politicians dispense with the socially acceptable methods of gaining votes, and instead turn to morally repugnant ways of achieving their goal. Rent-seeking behaviour and the courting of lobbies and special interest groups who hold powerful, if undeserving, sway is at the order of the day. Such activities, frequently leading to logrolling and other questionable legislative trade-offs, and the inefficiencies that go hand-in-hand with them ultimately result in society being worse off than before. Politicians are of course well known to also indulge in less sophisticated, but highly effective criminal activities in order to ensure they gain votes they would otherwise have had to do without: bribery and corruption. This despicable participation in criminality by elected officials exacerbate the costs already carried by citizens, and is most certainly a very negative social outcome.
If these are activities perpetrated by solitary politicians in their quest for office, then how much damage can an entire Parliament, Senate, or House of Representatives do? A cursory glance through any reputable newspaper will provide you with the answer, considering that the inefficiencies and inequities of politics are perpetrated against nations on a daily basis by their elected officials. If you happen to hail from the European Union, dear Reader, then I express my sincerest sympathies in this regard.
Considering that the electorate reserves the power to remove under-performing officials, then how do these people expect to get away with such misdeeds? It is, among other things, a problem of imperfect information: much like in economics, citizens are prevented from making efficient choices because they do not possess sufficient or appropriate information. Despite the fact that in our digital age we have access to a veritable cornucopia of information at our fingertips, people still find themselves misinformed and ignorant about important topics and issues. This asymmetry in information access, where politicians and special interest groups are privy to facts and figures obfuscated from us, or otherwise perverted through propaganda and misinformation, serves to hamstring effective electoral outcomes and encourages destructive populism. If you do not know and understand the issues, you cannot be expected to vote accordingly. In short, the bastards get away with murder because the entire system allows them to.
I am deeply distrustful of government. It is an entity that is composed of fallible individuals who seek to satisfy their own self-interest to the detriment of society, and who wield great legislative power as they do so. If we as individuals understand ourselves to be imperfect beings, then how imperfect is a collection of us who can appropriate private property, set taxes, determine which activities are criminal, and send us to war? We are all hostages of the whims of politicians, the most power-hungry and greedy class of people in existence, and that frightens me.