I’ve compiled a list of what I think are the top ten misconceptions and false beliefs about politicians. I use explanatory or humorous quotations from great thinkers and economists wherever I cannot say it better myself or to add further clarity.
1). Politicians are trying to solve our problems
“No one will really understand politics until they understand that politicians are not trying to solve our problems. They are trying to solve their own problems – of which getting elected and re-elected are number one and number two. Whatever is number three is far behind.” ~ Thomas Sowell
“Politics, N. Strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.” ~ Ambrose Bierce.
2). Politicians can solve our problems & generally make society a better place (see 4,7,8 and 9 also)
All politicians have is the ability to use force. That’s the only tool at their disposal. Force is only good for one thing: defending one’s person and property. It’s useless for anything else. It can’t improve your life in any way, which is why none of us resort to using it in our daily lives. Instead, we cooperate and engage in peaceful exchange.
Politicians are primarily interested in convincing people that they are victims; that they have more problems than they actually do, which they are powerless to solve because they are caused by a social greed and evil that only government force can conquer. For as long as people are convinced of this they will keep returning to the ballot box and giving their moral authority to politicians.
“Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge even where there is no river.” ~ Nikita Khrushchev
“A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.” ~ George Bernard Shaw
3). Politicians are part of peaceful society
False. Politicians are separate and distinct from peaceful society. Politicians acquire and re-distribute wealth that has been coercively collected under threat of violence (via taxation). Everyone else acquires and distributes wealth voluntarily through peaceful exchange.
“There are two methods, or means, and only two, whereby man’s needs and desires can be satisfied. One is the production and exchange of wealth; this is the economic means. The other is the uncompensated appropriation of wealth produced by others; this is the political means.” ~ Albert Nock
4). Politicians can know what is best for millions of individuals better than the individuals themselves
Such knowledge would require omnipresence and therefore is not possible. In reality, politicians and bureaucrats can only guess what people want or pursue courses of action based on what they think people should want, which is the fundamental reason why government provision of things like healthcare and education consistently fails to meet society’s needs well or at all.
“He knows nothing and thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career.” ~ George Bernard Shaw
“The reformers searching for the maximum of general satisfaction have told us merely what state of other people’s affairs would best suit themselves.” ~ Ludwig von Mises
“Ah, you miserable creatures! You who think that you are so great! You who judge humanity to be so small! You who wish to reform everything! Why don’t you reform yourselves? That task would be sufficient enough.” ~ Frédéric Bastiat
5). Through politicians the ‘public will’ is enacted
False. ‘The public’ is a collective term for a group of individuals, it is a concept ergo it cannot have a will. Politicians are like every other human being in that they can only act according to their own interests. The truth is politicians spend their days trying to fulfil the promises they made to those individuals or groups who funded their campaign for office. If they fail or refuse to provide this benefit to their backers, then they condemn themselves to a short political career. Firstly, because their original backers will never back them again, and secondly because no individual or group will want to fund someone’s campaign for office if it will not benefit them in some way. The reality is that each and every politician has been sold and bought long before they reach the podium to ask for our vote.
“An honest politician is one who, when he is bought, stays bought.” ~ Simon Cameron
6). Politicians are generally decent people like us
Unlikely. They’re more likely to be sociopaths, incapable of empathy, who see people as means to their own ends and not as individuals whose person and property should not violated. The nature of government power discourages due diligence, prudence and thrift, which means even those with a conscience are more likely to pursue courses of action that are wasteful and/or unintentionally harmful to others.
“The Word ‘politics’ is derived from the word ‘poly’ meaning ‘many’, and the word ‘ticks’ meaning ‘blood sucking parasites'”. ~ Larry Hardiman.
“A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.” ~ H. L. Mencken
7). Politicians are necessary to eradicate or minimise poverty
False. The welfare state is a political invention that perpetuates poverty by reducing people’s incentive to work or to learn skills that others value. The minimum wage also perpetuates poverty by prohibiting from ever working all those who aren’t worth the arbitrary cost of labour set by politicians. Poverty is simply a lack of wealth. Therefore, the solution to poverty is more wealth, but politicians can only redistribute wealth – only society can create more wealth.
“The welfare state is the oldest con game in the world. First you take people’s money away quietly and then you give some of it back to them flamboyantly.” ~ Thomas Sowell
8). Politicians have a good understanding of economics
Most don’t, actually. If they did, then they certainly wouldn’t advocate things like the minimum wage, which almost all of them do. Those that have studied economics have almost certainly been exclusively raised on Keynesian economic theory, which has long been debunked as lacking internal logical coherence, but persists because it can be used so effectively to justify any government economic action by politicians and intellectuals alike.
“Let’s go to lunch Keynesian style: you pay me £50 to have lunch with you. Out of my £50 income, I’ll pay you £25 to have lunch with me. With the £75 we’ve collectively earned, we can afford to pay for lunch.” ~ Antony Davies
“Politics is perhaps the only profession for which no preparation is thought necessary.” ~ Robert Louis Stevenson
“If you can’t convince them, confuse them.” ~ Harry S. Truman
9). Politicians can prevent economic instability
False. In fact, their actions are the root cause of it. Their interventionist economic schemes usually have the effect of making unprofitable ventures appear to be profitable ones leading to economic booms fuelled by malinvestments, which are eventually corrected in the form of a bust that lowers the standard of living and destroys wealth. At this point politicians start to sell ‘solutions’ (to the problems caused by their previous actions) again, and the cycle begins anew.
“Political success is the ability, when the inevitable occurs, to get credit for it.” ~ Laurence F. Peter
10). Without politicians to plan society it would be a chaotic, dysfunctional mess
A baseless assertion born out of fear. Without political control over the formation and progress of it, society’s size, shape and character would emerge according to the many plans of individuals, and not just the plan of a small group of people in government; it would necessarily be a far more accurate reflection of the many wants, needs, preferences and ideals of the many individuals that constitute that society.
“The alternative is not plan or no plan. The question is whose planning? Should each member of society plan for himself, or should a benevolent government alone plan for them all? The issue is not automatism versus conscious action; it is autonomous action of each individual versus the exclusive action of the government. It is freedom versus government omnipotence.” ~ Ludwig von Mises
“Economics does not hold that the desires of the consumers are pure or virtuous. It does illustrate that the market process is the only way to approximately gauge those desires. All other systems [i.e. those that require politicians] must attempt to impose the rulers’ values on the ruled. Those who plan on doing the imposing have a very high regard for their own judgment, and a very low regard for that of the rest of us.” ~ Gene Callahan
“…the man who would plan for others is something more than human; the planned man, something less.” G.L.S. Shackle
We shall conclude with a quote from Ayn Rand on the difference between economic power and political power:
“…economic power is exercised by means of a positive, by offering men a reward, an incentive, a payment, a value; political power is exercised by means of a negative, by the threat of punishment, injury, imprisonment, destruction. The businessman’s tool is values; the bureaucrat’s tool is fear.”
We do not need politicians or bureaucrats. Only by completely rejecting them from our world view can we truly be free.