Saturday, February 16, 2008

Obama, Exxon Mobil, economics and populism

It is a common fallacy to assume that more information, or even better information, will result in better decision making. What is overlooked is that decision-making is a political activity and politics is as much about the perception of reality as it is facts about reality: any piece of information can be spun to appear to justify or compel a course of action or inaction deemed politically expedient.

This post from QandO gives an excellent illustration.

Oil companies are easy targets for populist politicians. As Edmund Burke noted some time ago, the problem with equality is that we all want to be equal with somebody who has more than us. Equality is antithetical to liberty. Politics is about power and those... who have been once intoxicated with power, and have derived any kind of emolument from it, even though but for one year, never can willingly abandon it. They may be distressed in the midst of all their power; but they will never look to anything but power for their relief.

So, despite the fact that we know liberty and individual freedom are necessary precursors to economic development, material well-being and prosperity, ideologues and populist politicians still like to refer to omnivorous corporations as the bad guys, as if the world could be fixed tomorrow by merely stealing their wealth and re-allocating it equally amongst the citizenry. (Populists dismiss this theft as a necessary and justifiable act, because in populist ideology, the ends are always used to justify the means). Not only does massive re-allocation of private wealth rely upon the imposition of state rule (and hence the creation of unfettered state power) it also assumes that re-allocation will be both even and effective. Numerous socialist schemes have attempted such reform throughout history. Not one has successfully achieved equality: even where mass poverty was the eventual outcome, the result was not even, for state officials, the party and those exercising re-allocative power always net out ahead, while everyone else suffers greater misery. Even when the results are less dramatic, those who exercise power are advantaged economically at the expense of the masses.

Simply put, populist politics is a lie. Equality does not exist and equality of outcome is a dangerous myth. Politics should be about the provision of equity, social justice and the opportunity for growth. What individuals do with that opportunity, rests with them. The job of the state is to facilitate the individual and the role of politics should be about preventing the mechanisms of the state from inhibiting the individual from achieving prosperity.

Clearly, not everyone will agree with this political ideology. That's o.k.: but at least it stands on its own merits and not the unrealisable lies of populist rhetoric.

Or to use another metaphor, we can seek the politician who is authentic, or settle for one who is just lip-synching old standards.