August 13, 2015

Politicians, Vocation, & the Public Sector

By In Blogs, Politics

I made a comment in a previous post about Trump and the kind of people we want in government. I quoted and am still by and large in agreement with Murray Rothbard when he says “Who wants good people in government? Good people should be in the private sector. Helping us out, helping themselves out in the private sector. We want schmoes in government. We want people who can’t find the doorknob. Why waste productive people, as well as looting the taxpayer?”

The comment wasn’t about morally good people versus bad people per say, but more about competency of your average politician and notions about political office as a vocation. Obviously I would ultimately prefer a very principled Ron Paul type candidate who understands the role of government or is even a solid Reformed Christian, but if the choice is between your average field of GOP candidates who want government to do lots of things I’d rather have the schmoe who can’t find the doorknob than Trump. If the choice comes to be between Trump, Huckabee, and some incompetent bozo who has accomplished nothing in life I am not going to vote for Trump because he is “competent” or “can get things done”, I’m not going to vote for Huckabee simply because he used to be a baptist pastor (he’s still a bloodthirsty warmonger and a central planner), and I am not going to fret over the bozo being elected. In this scenario my time will be just as well spent either staying home and reading a good book or doing a write in for Kim Kardashian.

There seems to be a similar tendency among Christians to excuse absolutely terrible views about government and foreign policy simply because someone says they’re a Christian, seems well intentioned, or plays bass guitar for their local baptist church. The evangelical moral majority is a very large voting base and fall over themselves when a Republican candidate so much as mentions something that sounds remotely like Christianity. Recently I was at a prayer meeting in a Reformed church and a dear, and I’m sure very sweet, older woman made a prayer request “that the next the leader we elect as a country be a Christian. I just think it’s really important that we have leaders who are Christians and who are men of faith, and that it’s important for us as the Church to vote for a Christian who can make this country great again.” Now, certainly there may be many things we could point out and dissect about this but I have no intention of ripping apart a statement by an older sincere though perhaps naive member of the church. For our interest I only want to point the connection here between the idea of politicians as “leaders” and the need for good christian morality and character (at least perceived) in the candidate.

This is a profound reflection really of the evangelical view of the State, not as a collective organization of the individual right to lawful defense of person and property for the sake of peace and justice, but as a tool for moral transformation and hence the need for a shared moral conviction in the “leadership.” The phrase leadership is itself a misnomer, they are in fact the ruling class pure and simple. C.S. Lewis, as he reflected on older literature perceived this change in vocabulary and observed:

“the modern State exists not to protect our rights but to do us good or make us good—anyway, to do something to us or to make us something. Hence the new name ‘leaders’ for those who were once ‘rulers.’ We are less their subjects than their wards, pupils, or domestic animals. There is nothing left of which we can say to them, ‘Mind your own business.’ Our whole lives are their business.”

When such becomes the norm he further observed:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth.”

Good intentions in government don’t count for much when you are talking about the power of the monopolized use of force. I can only make a judgment of charity and ignorance when it comes to any of the candidates beliefs. Being unable to see their hearts I simply cannot know with certainty the state of their soul. I do however know that shortly after proclaiming to be saved by the blood of Jesus Ted Cruz went onto to explain in great detail how he would shed the blood of millions of Iranians for their governments daring to resist in any way American hegemony. (See C. Jay’s article here)

Second, and this I think is the more important point, I reject the idea that if you’re at good at something (like business or neurosurgery) that you are not really helping other people until you run for office. I cannot count how many times I have heard from the pulpit of multiple churches the glorification of those who hold political offices, law enforcement, or the military above and beyond those who merely work a regular job in the private sector. In a special church teaching session on law enforcement and vocation I heard one of the men explaining why he went into “the service” say “when I thought about my career I didn’t simply want to have nothing but a financial portfolio to show for it after 30 years.” That is both economically inaccurate and disgraceful.

The average Christian who works a job, owns a business, or manages investments and sits regularly under the preached Word, striving in his sanctification, and raising a family is fulfilling his vocation, is adding value and wealth to society, is enriching his neighbor, is participating in the division of labor, and is living at peace with all men as he is able just as God has commanded him. The man who works in the free market engages in the peaceful cooperative effort of continuous mutually beneficial exchanges and collaboration for greatest social value of the scarce resources we have. He succeeds only as much as he serves his customer, his boss, and as he trains and equips his employees to their full productive potential. He provides for his family, for the Church and her mission, even while he produces products and services valued by those around him, jobs and wages for those under him, and needed services by his bosses above him.

If you are gifted at neurosurgery or any entrepreneurial skill that does not translate into right views about government and it is perfectly honorable (even more honorable!) to continue working in your field serving your neighbor and adding value to society, the free market is about serving, the public sector is about ruling. As Mises wrote in his book Bureaucracy:

“Every half-wit can use a whip and force other people to obey. But it requires brains and diligence to serve the public. Only a few people succeed in producing shoes better and cheaper than their competitors. The inefficient expert will always aim at bureaucratic supremacy. He is fully aware of the fact that he cannot succeed within a competitive system. For him all-round bureaucratization is a refuge. Equipped with the power of an office he will enforce his rulings with the aid of the police. At the bottom of all this fanatical advocacy of planning and socialism there is often nothing else than the intimate consciousness of one’s own inferiority and inefficiency. The man who is aware of his inability to stand competition scorns ‘this mad competitive system.’ He who is unfit to serve his fellow citizens wants to rule them”

In fact one of F.A. Hayek’s most famous chapters in The Road to Serfdom was “Why the Worst End Up on Top” in which he said ““There is thus in the positions of power in the social [democracy], little to attract those who hold moral beliefs of the kind which in the past have guided the European peoples. The only tastes which are satisfied”-in the socialist system- “are the taste for power as such and the pleasure of being obeyed and of being part of a well-functioning and immensely powerful machine to which everything else must give way. Under socialism there will be special opportunities for the ruthless and unscrupulous.” Hence, Trump. Hence, you should be skeptical of every persons motivations to go into politics until their actions show otherwise. Politics is no place for taking people at their word, for judgments of charity, or naive faith in those who claim to be Christian’s right before they ask you to hand over the controls for the most terrifying empire the world has ever known.

By and large if we think of the “State” (as opposed to government and its legitimate function, see here) it is largely about the destruction of wealth through what might be called political entrepreneurship in the vein of what Hayek described as the natural incentives of the totalitarian state. We may consider the methods, means, and incentive structure of the political entrepreneur versus the market entrepreneur. Unlike action in the free market political entrepreneurship is the economics of the destruction of wealth. The State is the only organization in society legally equipped to use violence to legally derive its revenue from a compulsory levy. That is, they are the only agency which may derive an income not from an efficient use of the means of production to satisfy a customer enough to voluntarily purchase their good but simply by use of force. The politician has the incentives then to create more laws (specifically those laws which directly benefit him or his next campaign), to allocate more funds to his departments, to increase taxes, and to acquire more State power. The politician has no incentive to limit his power other than future elect-ability or moral conscience. In fact as Mises and Dilorenzo have pointed out unlike in the market where bad entrepreneurs go bankrupt while successful ones expand, the public sector is just the opposite. The more the welfare state, education, or Social Security fails the more money is dumped into it. There is competition but it is not like the competition of the market where they compete to lower prices, enhance quality, and satisfy the consumer but instead they compete against each other in audacious promises to the public, in swindling, bribery, and extortion.

There is also the effect of what is called in microeconomics leveraging excess capacities. This refers to the tendency over time for firms to excel at a given production task to the point that they now have under utilized capital and labor that is not being used to its potential and can thus be applied to a new task. In a political bureaucracy this means than an agency perhaps created to regulate a specific new market or product eventually completes this task and acquires to itself new task, new regulation, and new responsibilities. This is precisely how Departments attain authority in areas that little to nothing to do with their title or historical origin. These are simply some of the problem of a political vocation (even by the well-intentioned).

Politics tends to select people who enjoy power. As Peter Klein states “socialism and interventionist systems also select for people who are good at doing new and better bad things. Finding new and better ways to achieve and retain power, new and better ways to achieve the objectives of the state, by which I mean the objectives of the ruling elite not that the population at large. Also new activities in which they can engage so that they leverage their existing resources and capabilities.” This is precisely why we don’t want the Token Business Candidate, why we don’t want Trump, Fiorina, or Carson. Truly their efficiency and productivity in the marketplace only disqualifies them in as much as it is not accompanied by a proper view of the State and the individual’s liberties. Ron Paul could run and hold office because he was solidly grounded in the ideas of liberty and already had a large platform (through delivery most of the towns babies), and was in a small rural conservative district in which he could realistically make a large difference through education in political action. Most of us are not in that situation and are not called to make a difference in that way and should not try nor feel inadequate for not holding a place of prominence or power. The ordinary Christian life fueled by God’s means of grace in the Word and sacrament in a doctrinally sound Church will have far more effects for you, for your family, and for your community.

Written by Brian Jacobson

Brian Jacobson works as a quality technician for a manufacturing company in St. Louis, Mo where he lives with his new bride. He studied biblical and theological studies at Reformation Bible College under R.C. Sproul in Orlando, FL. He’s an Old-School Presbyterian who enjoys the simple means of grace, Machen, and living the high life on a budget. Follow him @briankjacobson on Twitter.
  • Good. I’m glad I found a Christian not happy with Cruz.