Washington Post Says That Politicians Are Philosophers

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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.)