Intellectual Lightweights

“Bipartisanship” sounds like a good idea in theory, but it usually ends up as broad congressional agreement that the American people have too many liberties or too much money.

Bipartisanship at Its Finest

[P]olitical ignorance strengthens the case for limiting the role of government – especially the federal government.

But David isn’t entirely correct in analogizing faith in government to second marriages. Most people devote far more time and effort to figuring out who they should marry than they do to deciding who to vote for in elections. While many marriages still fail, the average marriage promotes happiness far better than the average politician promotes the public interest. For all its flaws, the marriage/dating market is actually a good example of “voting with your feet.” Participants in foot voting institutions have strong incentives to seek out relevant information and evaluate it rationally because they know their choices will make a real difference. By contrast, ballot box voters have strong incentives to be ignorant, and irrational in their evaluation of what information they do know. Lots of people still make mistakes in deciding who to marry. But imagine what the error rate would be if spouses were chosen in an election, assigned by Congress, or allocated by a government bureaucracy.

Political Ignorance in Congress

Even legislative staffers who deal with an issue every day can miss or fail to grasp the consequence of small turns of legislative language. “The legislative process is made up of people who are artisans at being able to craft language that looks innocuous” but isn’t, said Scott Lilly, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress who spent more than three decades as a high-level staffer on Capitol Hill.

But lawmakers acknowledge this reality at their peril these days, as House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) learned after saying in a speech, “What good is reading the bill if it’s a thousand pages and you don’t have two days and two lawyers to find out what it means after you read the bill?”

Read the bill? It might not help

So maybe Congress should pass fewer laws! Nah, that’d never work….

Here are a few things Mark Twain said about Congress:

Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.

It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.

All Congresses and Parliaments have a kindly feeling for idiots, and a compassion for them, on account of personal experience and heredity.

Decades of research show that most citizens know very little about politics and public policy. Ignorance goes beyond lack of awareness of specific issues. Even more alarming is that most citizens lack basic background knowledge about political leaders, parties and the structure of government. For example, the majority of Americans don’t know the name of their congressman, which branch of government is responsible for which issues and the basic differences between liberalism and conservatism.

Political Ignorance Is No Bliss

Act of Congress: How America’s Essential Institution Works, and How It Doesn’t, by Robert G. Kaiser (Google Books)

Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government Is Smarter, by Ilya Somin (Google Books)



Unfortunately, it seems that the future Aldous Huxley predicted in 1932, in Brave New World, is arriving early. Mockery, truculence, and minimalist living are best, then enjoy the decline. However, we do need a Revolving Door Tax (RDT), learn what Members of Congress pay in taxes, and prosecute politicians and staff and their “family and friends” who profit from insider trading. Oh, and pay “public servants” what they are worth.

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