That is what Matthew La Corte and Monica Lucas recommended today, and I just love it. There’s a lot to be said for eschewing politics, especially if you’re not in the business of actually affecting political change. God knows I wish that morning C-SPAN callers would take this advice. Watch a segment of Washington Journal to learn all you need to know about rational ignorance and broader concepts of public choice theory.
There’s a sardonic line in one of my talks where I discuss the two different types of politically inclined people. There are those of us who are interested in politics so that we can reduce the scope of it in our lives in hopes of eventually pursuing true values. This is best captured in Ayn Rand’s statement, “I am interested in politics so that one day I won’t have to be…” In contrast, there is a decidedly larger and more influential group of people who we all remember as the student body president with no actual skills who never stood a fighting chance in the value-creating private sector.
If you enjoy politics recreationally, then fine. That’s weird, and I prefer to watch actual horse races, but whatever. You do you. But frankly, I wish we’d all follow the example of Craig from Clovis and flatly tell Vice President Meyer that “I don’t follow politics.”
To shift a bit, there’s a different and rather compelling story which this piece brings up. If you are in that line of work of advancing liberty (as I am), it’s incumbent upon you to learn what’s got to be done to change policy here and now. Hint: we ain’t doin’ it yet, which is what I’m most eager to address.
The M&M’s kind of put it to those of us who have long overstated the role of public opinion:
Political scientists have found that if public opinion determined policy, then trade would be heavily protectionist, abortion and immigration laws would be more restrictive, corporations would see more regulation, and the rich would see higher levels of taxation. This suggests that public policy is guided by political insiders rather than the average citizen.
Don’t freak out, but it does seem that there’s some tension between the most commonly accepted Hayekian interpretation of social change and the actual academic output on the subject. Hayek (and John Blundell) told us that twentieth century socialism came to its ascendancy because of the power that intellectuals held over public opinion which in turn affected political outcomes. I think that’s clearly right. On the other hand, all the cutting edge literature on the role of public opinion in influencing public policy tells us that it’s almost wholly negligible. For a little more context, I highly recommend the conspectus of the newly established Niskanen Institute.
I recognize, of course, that Hayek thought on the level of long-run institutional shifts, rather than more immediate, marginal policy adjustments, which seems to be the focus here. That means that the work libertarians have been doing for decades hasn’t been in vain; we still need strategic diversity to help establish the boundaries of what is possible. At the same time, it’s crucial that we start to learn from our more successful adversaries on the left and right how to engage the political class appropriately. We need DC insiders, clear and simple.
I recall a moment a few years ago when strategy was the big debate. Let’s be honest though that it’s always been a highly argued topic, and I suspect that we’ll see even more of it with the emergence of yet another libertarian institution.