Politics for Dummies

By Fred Schnaubelt
Friday, September 8, 2006

Politicians, full of pomp and circumstance, claim they are underpaid, given their responsibilities for billion-dollar budgets. Most executives, however, get paid for making money; politicians get paid for spending other people's money. Any teenager with a credit card can tell you the difference.

City Council members claim to represent their districts because they are elected by majority vote; but that's hard to substantiate. There's an average of 163,000 people in each council district. Voter turnout runs between 28 percent and 52 percent. Thus, politicians who typically receive a little over half the vote are elected with less than 26 percent of those registered and 4 percent to 10 percent of the district's population. Mayor Jerry Sanders, atypically, was elected by about 30 percent of San Diego's registered voters and 13 percent of the population.

Politicians like to use fictional terms such as "the majority" or "the people." People obviously exist, but "the people" is an imposture term used to mislead. A so-called majority is frequently only an organized numerical minority. For example: we may say a majority of the public voted for the mayor, city council member, Petco Park, etc., when, in reality, it was a minority of registered voters who determined the outcomes.

Majority vote is a useful concept. Notwithstanding its limitations, majority vote can be appropriate for electing who should administer governmental affairs. The limitations are crucial in a democracy because it's the limitations on government that determine whether you live in a first or a third world country.

When politicians tell you something is for the "public good," you should know instinctively that, most likely, it isn't. The public good is an all-inclusive term meaning for the good of every man, woman and child. Very few things rise to that level. Upon close examination, nearly everything claimed to be for the public good is not even for a majority good. Rather, it's for the benefit of an organized minority—what Milton Friedman calls Concentrating Benefits (for a minority) and Diffusing Costs (to everyone else).

All political power derives from what you can do to—or for—someone. The overarching philosophy of the Democratic Party for getting elected is to take money from those who have earned it and give to those who haven't (in exchange for votes). The Democrats tax the rich, claiming they never pay their fair share even though, according to the IRS, the richest top 1 percent of all income tax filers pay 11.2 times more of the total taxes collected than the bottom 50 percent.

Republicans are so enamored with the Democrats' Robin Hood mantra to get re-elected that they try to outspend the Democrats when they are in power. The only difference: Democrats do it by raising taxes: Republicans, by borrowing—expecting our kids to foot the bill in future years. Both parties, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, are like a baby, "An alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other."

As a star reporter for the Los Angeles Times once famously said, "Newspapers don't print the truth; we print what people say." Politicians are dependent upon gullible reporters repeating their inane sayings over and over. How reporters frame the story, their choice of who to interview and what they leave in or leave out is the basis for public opinion. Sometimes, however, the truth is what's left out of a story. Bias in reporting was first widely recognized in Edith Efron's, 1971 blockbuster, "The News Twisters." It's nothing new, just more widespread and documented.

When it comes to business, politicians accuse some profitable companies of illegal monopoly pricing (Standard Oil) or, if prices are low, cutthroat "predatory" competition (Wal-Mart) or, if prices are the same, price fixing (airlines, milk, music CDs). Politicians gotcha whether you raise, lower or keep your prices the same. Standard Oil actually was found guilty of all three. Over the last 30 years, oil company profits averaged a seldom-reported 8 percent or less annually and this year may hit 12 percent. The headlines scream that profits are up 50 percent. If profits go from $1 to $2 it's a 100 percent increase. Reporters intentionally report the 50 percent or more in bold letters, both knowing and hiding the lower, true profits. Instead, readers are led to believe real profits are obscene at 50 percent. So much for media professionalism.

Politicians claim voters have a "right" to a living wage, affordable housing, cheap rents, cheap gasoline, a world-class sports team, etc. However, a right never imposes a burden on someone else. Once upon a time that was known as slavery—forcing some to produce for the benefit of others.

People tend to think the government and politicians know more than anyone else because of the tremendous apparatus that is government. Unfortunately, politicians need know only 5 percent more than most people for many to believe they know everything. In reality, where it counts, they know far less than the average person in specialized fields—fields that encompass a lifetime of learning.

As Honest Abe said, "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time."

Lastly, as noted in the Harvard Business Review, "Consider that any one person can only know a fraction of what is going on around him. Much of what that person knows will be false rather than true—At any given time vastly more is not known than is known and by organizing ourselves into a hierarchy of authority—we may really be institutionalizing ignorance."


This appeared in:
Daily Transcript
on Monday, September 8, 2006
Schnaubelt, president of Citizens for Private Property Rights, has been a commercial real estate broker for 35 years and was a San Diego City Councilman from 1977-81. Send comments to editor@sddt.com. All letters are forwarded to the author and may be published as Letters to the Editor. [Reprinted with permission.]



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