Kathleen McCaffrey, Editor
Ideology: Libertarian | Writing from: Ithaca, NY

Next Tuesday marks one of the most exciting days of the calendar year, election day. For the past year or so, I’ve been looking forward to this time in the hopes that the results will mitigate President Obama’s statist objectives. It seems the Democrats are now out of favor, but these things have a fairly reliable cycle.

Election season has always brought with it a pleasant way of making me think about what I want to have. Campaign public relations are about marketing ideas to “your voice” and propping up traits that certain candidates allegedly hold. The practice is corny, but the idea is to vest your hopes that someone will bring your values to the legislature. This year, though, maybe because I am living far closer to the infamous political machine in Albany, NY than ever before, I have had an odd sadness come upon me at the thought of elections.

The real type of person I would like to elect cannot exist in our political system. That is because, ideally, I would like to see a politician who admits that he is grossly unqualified to wield the power that he does. That is, to say, one who understands that matters like the economy, healthcare, and education are too complicated for him to have a just say in influencing. He would not have to market himself as an expert or answer to 50% +1. He would be happily unable to resolve all of my problems, agreeing that my voluntary decisions are probably what suit me best.

Yet the government is so entrenched in so many facets of our life that a person cannot hold office and not have a formulated opinion on some issues. Perhaps I find this particularly jarring in light of a recent paper from the Istituto Bruno Leoni that found just how little we know. “We falsely believe that we understand the causes, effects and inner mechanics of different things, events or processes much better than we actually do. Participants in the experiments testing for this illusion would consistently report a certain level of understanding of the given phenomena, before hearing an expert explanation of the same. Only after finding out the true explanation would they realize that their understanding was poor.”

Perhaps more relevant to election season, “Clifford Winston (2006, p. 11) [conducted] a comprehensive survey of scholarly assessments of regulatory policies and reports “a surprising degree of consensus about the paucity of major policy successes in correcting a market failure efficiently.” Hahn and Tetlock (2008) [have shown] that economic analysis has not improved the quality of regulatory decisions in practice. Nevertheless, the rise of the regulatory state still largely meets public approval (e. g. Miller, 2007). This persistent practice of regulation despite the lack of evidence that the effects have been net positive, indicates that we are dealing with an embedded illusion about the difficulty of regulatory tasks, rather than with occasional mistakes.” (Elections merely enforce my distaste for the Dunning-Kruger effect.)

Certainly people who are masters at understanding the way certain systems work have a very special place in their line. That is why they achieve that status – they do not decide the way a system should work, they study it to understand it. What I cease to understand, though, is why state appointments to departments have been chosen to decidedly wield more influence than others who have a vested interest in the way a particular industry works. The way our political class works, though, one bold character can entirely pervert the nature of a market he has no formal understanding of, choosing to craft legislation to manufacture the results he promised. Speaking of which, does anyone else want affordable healthcare, still?

As long as politicians and technocrats continue to masquerade as the solutions to problems, I cannot see a truthful person, one who admits the limitations of their knowledge, ever attaining influence. Those who regulate rarely see an impetus to cede their power, and it seems we are in a loop of vesting our desired outcomes in the hands of another.

I do not like seeing a system where the general public is left to decide who is clever enough to legislate properly. I would prefer to see my action, not my vote, find the most influence.