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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Washington Post Says That Politicians Are Philosophers

Washington Post Says That Politicians Are Philosophers

Thursday, 09 January 2014 05:54

Most of us see politicians getting their jobs by appealing to individuals and interest groups with money and power. That might lead us to believe that the major political battles are over who gets the money. But the Washington Post says we're wrong. Really the big battles are over philosophy.

I'm not kidding, it's right there in the headline:

"'great society' agenda led to great -- and lasting -- philosophical divide."

The piece repeatedly asserts that major battles over public issues are matters of philosophy about the role of government. While that may contradict the understanding that most people have of politics, it is a useful argument for the wealthy. If people understood the debates over policy issues as being debate over whether the rich or everyone else would get money, the rich would likely lose in democratic elections, since they are hugely outnumbered.

However, if the debate can be framed as a matter of philosophy, then the rich stand a much better chance. They can hire people to argue their "philosophy" in television, newspapers, and other media forums.

As a practical matter it is easy to show that the rich have no objection to a big role for government in the economy. For example, they strongly support government granted patent monopolies for prescription drugs. These monopolies redistribute around $270 billion a year (1.6 percent of GDP) from patients to drug companies. This is more than three times as much money as is paid in food stamp benefits each year and more than ten times the amount of money at stake with extending unemployment benefits.

There are many other examples of major government interventions in the economy that have the full support of the rich. However, they are clever enough to try to hide these interventions in order to preserve the guise of supporting "free markets." They can usually count on the cooperation of major media outlets in maintaining this fiction. (Yes, this is the topic of my book, The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive.)

Comments (6)Add Comment
If politicians are philosophers, ...
written by Squeezed Turnip, January 09, 2014 6:19
then the Washington Post is poetry.

Plato warned of this type of obfuscation over 2000 years ago. Rhetoric is not philosophy.
'Ideology/Philosophy' as trump card
written by jonnybutter, January 09, 2014 7:57
Notice how quickly rational arguments with many conservatives and reactionaries (which includes Democrats of course) devolve to, "Well, we just have differing ideologies/philosophies you and I". As if that were a good excuse for anything! "I kick my dog for nothing every night when I come home, but I do it for reasons of ideology, so it's OK."

When politicians trying to be better than this get to that point in an argument, they should straight out say, "Yes you have a different philosophy, and it is a giant POS".
Philosophy of Government in America - Not Enough Money in Politics
written by Last Mover, January 09, 2014 8:08

As Lawrence Lessig said on the Diane Rehm NPR show this week, the root cause of America's economic problems is money in politics.

There are two kinds of elections, voting elections that occur periodically and money elections that go on non-stop as the pols never stop campaigning for funds.

Pols spend most of their time soliciting the 150,000 contributors essential to their political survival with the big bucks, at the cost of ignoring the general electorate.

Yet the abundance of sock puppets for the ultra-rich economic predators who run the country, glibly reel off selective statistics of voting history in opposition to the likes of Lawrence Lessig, asserting that if anything, not enough money is in politics - that even more money implies more competition and representation among the voting public.

Political battles over the role of government are about philosophy? Excuse me, but the role of government shapes the political battles in the first place, and in this case, 99% of the voting public has been banned from battlefield altogether.
written by liberal, January 09, 2014 8:21
As a practical matter it is easy to show that the rich have no objection to a big role for government in the economy.

The biggest role of the government in the economy, along the lines discussed, is the annual gift of 10--20% of GDP to landowners in the form of land rent---in exchange for no contribution to production, as classicals like Mill understood.

The mystery here is why intelligent left-of-center economists like Dean don't understand it.
written by Ryan, January 09, 2014 9:38
Even if you bought the idea of philosophical or dispositional differences, I'm struggling as to how the Great Society caused differences over the reach of the government. Hadn't we by that point already had some with heightened concerns regarding the government's reach? Like on taxes?
written by Kat, January 09, 2014 10:15
Last Mover,
Money out of politics would be nice, but there is still this problem of crappy economics reporting as well as the vast infrastructure of think tanks, universities-for-hire, and foundations supporting this BS. We are all witness to the eternal whack-a-mole game that Dean Baker plays on a daily basis. We should contact our local reporters and question their "facts" and ask them what sources they use to verify the veracity of a claim from a politician or CEO. I did this recently and was rather alarmed by the response. I'm surprised that he wasn't ashamed by the response he gave me.

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.