Europe is turning against its elite austerity pushers. Sarkozy lost the first round to the socialist candidate. The Dutch government of Mark Rutte handed in its resignation to Queen Beatrix. The "technocrats" in Italy and Greece wonder how long they can hold on.
America, meanwhile, is settling down to a presidential election. On the one hand is a candidate who seems to have no firm convictions and no real ideas about how to move the country out of its post-crisis funk. On the other hand, is...well...the same thing.
As usual, the candidates are disappointing. But politics is a tawdry profession that invites hustlers and hollow men. No matter what kind of system you think you have, it is always the same. It is always dominated by the same fellow – grasping, status-hungry, ambitious... He is a world improver...a bully...a scold...a power-broker... He is a fixer...and a user. He uses the power of the government – that is, the power to force people to do what you want, at the point of a gun if necessary – to fix himself, his friends, and, he often believes, the entire world. At best, the politician is a conniving opportunist. At worst, he's a madman or a mass-murderer.
In a democracy, the candidate himself is often just an empty shell...ready to be filled up by a clever scalawag or rich donor.
In a monarchy, sometimes the king is real power...often it is a dark figure peering out from behind the dolt in the purple robes.
Even in a dictatorship, the real ruler may not be the dictator himself; it could be a group of powerful men.
The more power at stake...the harder the man-on-the-make works to get it. In extreme cases, he will stop at nothing...neither at assassination nor theft nor fraud.
Yes, occasionally a decent man gets into office, usually by accident. Rarely does he last long. And when he is gone, the historians tell us was a failure he was. "He didn't do anything," they say.
Of course, every society has its limits...its norms...its traditions. A man whose ambition is too naked or whose methods seem too ruthless won't get what he is after; people won't stand for it.
But, under pressure, the limits stretch. People welcome his clumsy lies. They ignore his crimes and excuse his ham-handed techniques. Later, they get fed up with him...but often not for many, many years.
On the whole, people are not very smart. They'll believe almost anything. Washington Blog warns:
The next six months leading up to the November elections will surely provide a shining example of the degraded society we've become. Both parties and their propaganda machines, SuperPacs, and corporate media sponsors will treat the igadget distracted masses to hundreds of hours of lies, spin, and vitriol, designed to divert the public from the fact that both parties act on behalf of the same masters and have no intention of changing course of the U.S. Titanic to avert the iceberg dead ahead.
We will be treated to storylines about race, gun control, the war on women, energy independence, global warming, the war on terror, the imminent threat of Iran and North Korea, Obamacare, Romneycare, and of course the economy, stupid.
The New York Times reports that shoppers in oil-rich Venezuela wait in long lines to buy common foodstuffs; it doesn't seem to occur to them that their inconvenience is a by-product of Hugo Chavez's price controls. Instead, they blame greedy businesses...and wait.
In America, more than a decade after 9/11, they wait in long lines as crippled 90-year-olds get felt up by TSA agents. "You can't be too safe," they say, as if their lives were put at risk by Lutheran grandmothers.
In Spain, Greece, Ireland...and practically all modern countries...they wait for government to figure out how to give them retirement incomes, healthcare, and full employment.
Of course, the politicians can't solve economic problems for a very simple reason: they are the cause of them.
Who set up the euro? Who set interest rates and lending standards? Who caused the bubbles by lending too low for too long? Who then 'fixed' the crisis – by lending more, at even lower rates, to the very institutions who had just proven such bad custodians?
Who spends more than he makes...year in and year out? Who promises even more spending – even as he is facing bankruptcy? Who counterfeits money – printing trillions of dollars with nothing more behind them than the "good faith" and "full credit" of an insolvent government? Who starts 'wars' that cost trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives...and then, standing over the wreckage, announces victory...and slithers away?
That's right. The feds...the fixers...the world-improvers...do all these things. But how could it be any different?
A decent man is too busy – improving his business, his home, his family – to take much interest in politics. Besides, he knows it is a flim-flam. He's seen how hard it is to make any real improvement at home, even when you are close to the facts and on the job full time. Imagine trying to improve things far away, where you don't really know what is going on!
An honest man knows better than to interfere in other peoples' business. His own business is tough enough. He cares deeply about the things around him...and tries to make his world better in every way he can. But he would be embarrassed to pretend to solve other peoples' problems. Even if he is only offering advice, he does so reluctantly...carefully...and tentatively.
If he is smart he knows that you can't really make things better by bullying and threatening people. An economy works best by doing the one thing that the fixers can't allow – letting people make their own deals, find their own jobs, and solve their own problems.
It's the one thing the fixers can't do, and the one thing every candidate regards as political suicide – just getting out of the way. Instead, the successful politician needs a plan, a program, a tax credit, a spending proposal.
He needs to be in charge. He needs to be an activist, promising to reward enough voters to get elected. He can't have no answer. He can't have no interest. He can't have a trace of modesty or a realistic assessment of the situation or his ability to understand it, let alone do anything about it.
Instead, he must pretend to care about the sick, the lame, the blind, the fat, the shiftless, the one-armed, tongue-tied, sex-addled wonton-turning immigrant from Taiwan...and have a program, right in his back pocket, that will make that poor man's life better.
The last thing he can be...is the very thing you most want in a politician...
...someone who doesn't really give a damn.
for The Daily Reckoning Australia
From the Archives...
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How The Belief in Australian Property Will Go With the Generational Wind
2012-04-19 – Greg Canavan
Chinese Communism and the Human Cost of the Cultural Revolution
2012-04-18 – Dan Denning
Lifting the Curtain on the Chinese Communist Party
2012-04-17 – Dan Denning
How Empires Really Work
2012-04-16 – Paul Craig Roberts
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About the Author
Best-selling investment author Bill Bonner is the founder and president of Agora Publishing, one of the world's most successful consumer newsletter companies. Owner of both Fleet Street Publications and MoneyWeek magazine in the UK, he is also author of the free daily e-mail The Daily Reckoning.