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Monday, April 25, 2016

Obama’s Revealing Confession about the Pacific Trade Deal

Politicians Can be Counted on to Sell out the Public to Win Votes

Earlier this afternoon I heard a report on WTOP radio about Pres. Obama’s visit to Germany. The report featured a clip of Obama explaining to his German hosts why the United States government has yet to approve U.S.-government participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — a trade treaty that would give consumers a bit more freedom from government interference with their purchasing decisions.

Here’s the relevant part of Obama’s remarks (emphasis added):

And with respect to Congress, and transpacific partnership, I think after the primary season is over, the politics settle down a little bit in Congress and will be in a position to start moving forward. Because I know that we have had a majority of members in the past who were in favor of this deal. Otherwise you would not have gotten the authority for me to go ahead and fast-track this agreement.

But I think we all know that elections can sometimes make things a little more challenging. And people take positions in part to protect themselves from attacks during the course of election season.

Politicians routinely confess that this fundamental flaw infects their profession and, hence, plagues the institution of democratic government. They make this confession often, as here by Obama, as an excuse for this particular state inaction or that specific state action so regularly and openly that we (and they) all nod our heads in knowing agreement. No one is surprised by such a confession by a politician; indeed, were a politician to announce otherwise, his or her announcement would be correctly greeted with howls of laughter.

Yet notice what’s being confessed; do not let the regularity and familiarity of a confession such as this one serve as an excuse to discount the relevance and importance of what is being confessed – namely, that politicians seeking votes typically do, and promise to do, not what they believe to be best to do and to promise to do but, instead, something different. That “something different” is a set of government actions or inactions that politicians presumably believe to be injurious to the public welfare but which they nevertheless support, at least during election years.

Remember, the above quotation is from not only a sitting president of the United States, but from a politician who, even as American politicians go, is especially enamored of the promise of state action to override or to “nudge” private actions. Obama is a man who believes in a big, powerful, intrusive government.

Yet even he confesses (publicly!) that the principal check that most people trust to ensure that the power of the modern democratic state is not abused and is used to public advantage namely, democratic elections often, or at least “sometimes,” causes politicians to act against rather than for the public’s best interest.

So remind me: Why do “Progressives” have a presumption in favor of government action and against private, market action? And given such a confession by a “Progressive” president of the United States, why should the rest of us be willing to turn yet more power and resources over to such people who are, by the admission of Obama, unprincipled cowards who sell the public interest down the river in order to get and to keep their political offices?

Cross-posted from Cafe Hayek.

  • Donald J. Boudreaux is a senior fellow with the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, a Mercatus Center Board Member, and a professor of economics and former economics-department chair at George Mason University.