Why Politics Is Not the Answer
“He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.”
~ Sun Tzu
There are three basic approaches to changing public policy: politics (elections and lobbying), direct citizen action and violence. We can quickly rule out violence as morally repugnant, inefficient and unpredictable.
Political action has rarely in human history caused government to shrink in size and power. The natural tendency of government is to grow and expand its powers. The events of 2008—2010 illustrate that. Over time, it will tend to tax and spend more, hire more people and assume more power over our lives, liberty and property. Government policies change continually but if you look closely, it is almost always in the direction of bigger government. If you favor bigger government, you really don't have to do anything. Just sit back and enjoy the show. By the natural laws of politics, governments will tend to grow. If you check back in five years, it is highly likely that the government will be bigger and more powerful. Government in America has grown enormously since about 1917, the start of American involvement in World War I. No coincidence there; war grows the state.
By its nature, the state is the means by which some people can impose the costs of achieving their goals onto unwilling others. As Frédéric Bastiat put it, “Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.” The desire to impose costs on others is virtually limitless. Thus, governments tend to grow over time.
There are five main reasons for this which are, unfortunately, structural features of political life:
- rational apathy — the incentive some people have to increase the size of the state outweighs the incentive the rest of us have to fight them;
- government control over political ideas — the state uses its control over schools and other idea-disseminating institutions to propagate support for further government growth;
- government creates its own demand — because the state's various interventions into the market economy always fail (e.g., health care), ironically, they increase the demand of the uninformed majority for even further interventions to fix the problems caused by the prior interventions;
- the productivity of the mixed economy — given the inherent tendency of the state to grow, only extreme dissatisfaction among the populace will rouse them to act; however, even a partially free market produces enough wealth to mollify the people;
- government has a monopoly on the use of legal force — government grows because it can. Given the universal human desire to accomplish goals with the least possible exertion, politicians have an irresistible urge to use the state's powers to continually expand the amount of wealth they control. Anyone who objects can always appeal to the politicians' judges and can expect to be told, “Get lost!”
Since it is in the structural DNA of government to grow, it is nearly impossible to persuade its officials to reverse that tendency or to persuade the voters to elect candidates who intend to shrink government. The last time a mass political movement was able to achieve power and shrink government was Thomas Jefferson's velvet revolution of 1800!
Ron Paul's campaign for president in 2007—8 showed how difficult it is to elect a candidate who favors smaller government. In spite of over 100,000 campaign workers and $30,000,000 and an articulate candidate with 20 years in Congress and a sterling personal life and record of accomplishment, he received less than ten percent in every Republican primary election. The system is thoroughly stacked against anyone who would attempt to reform it from within.
The main function of national elections in this country is to give the people the illusion that they are in charge and can change policy whenever necessary. However, the basic policies never seem to change. Elections allow people to blow off steam and thus serve as a safety valve for the regime that allows them to rule us for another four years.
With respect to the upcoming congressional elections this year, a Patriot candidate would need as much as two million dollars to run a competitive race for the House. Very few have that kind of money or can raise it. More likely, the Republican challengers this year will be party loyalists funded and controlled by the plutocrats and GOP establishment.
I know these are harsh realities to accept. They contradict what we have been taught in school and told to believe in endless TV ads urging us to vote and participate in the political process. However, to win this fight, you will have to be as clear-eyed as our adversaries are about the realities of power politics. That's how the political class got all that power in the first place: by seeing things clearly and not being fooled by myths and clichés.
April 12, 2010
James Ostrowski is an attorney in Buffalo, New York and author of Political Class Dismissed: Essays Against Politics, Including "What's Wrong With Buffalo." His latest book is Direct Citizen Action: How We Can Win the Second American Revolution Without Firing a Shot. See his website.
Copyright © 2010 James Ostrowski