Greed for Power

Kevin Williamson, writing at NRO, notes that political self-interest is no less selfish than economic self-interest. About Barack Obama, he has this to say:

What could it possibly mean to be lectured on selfishness by a man whose entire career has been dedicated to no cause other than the cause of himself? “Selfishness” has been conflated with materialism and greed, but the literal meaning of the word is excessive devotion to one’s self and one’s interests. To be unselfish is to be ready to give up that which one holds most dear; for some men, that is money, but what is money to a president of the United States, who knows that in retirement he can support himself in ducal style with one day’s work a month at Bill Clinton rates, in princely style with two days’ work, and in imperial style with three? Money is an abstraction to a retired president. But the thing that he really cares about — power — Barack Obama guards in a fashion more miserly than that of any mythical dragon watching his horde. (sic–I think he means “hoard”)

And political power, of course,  is always and everywhere convertible into economic wealth. The conversion may be in the form of in-kind benefits…the dachas and special stores made available to the old Soviet elite, the extremely expensive government aircraft made available to Obama’s vacationing family (and even to his dog) as well as to himself…or it may involve the at-least-implicit conversion of influence into money. (Al Gore’s financial net worth in now somewhere around the $200 million level, the Clintons are at roughly the same level. Today’s WSJ mentioned that former Clinton counsel Lanny Davis has been hired by a Chinese company to defend them against charges of violating California law. Lanny Davis may be a good lawyer, but is anyone really so naive as to think that his selection for this job has nothing to do with influence?) And in the celebrity-obsessed culture of 2014 America, the public recognition that comes with political office and power increases still further the ability to turn power into economic wealth. Get the power, the wealth will come…although, of course, for many obsessive power-seekers, the psychic rewards of power itself are the primary motivators.

Obama once remarked “I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money.”  Has he ever considered the possibility that maybe at a certain point he’s accumulated enough power? I doubt it. To a considerable extent, I think, the Democratic harping on inequalities of wealth and income acts as a smokescreen to avoid discussion of the high and increasing inequalities of power.

And extreme inequalities of power can be damaging and humiliating to individuals in ways that pure economic inequalities are not.  For example, no wealthy individual or private business could–absent government intervention–seize this WWII veteran’s store in the way that the resort of Fire Island is planning to do. Governmental compulsion is dangerous in ways that wealth alone is not.

In a Tale of Two Cities, one of the triggers for the French Revolution is the incident in which an arrogant aristocrat, driving his carriage recklessly, runs over a boy and kills him. Protected by his aristocratic status, he merely tosses a few coins to the boy’s father and drives on.

Not very different, if you think about it, from the Ted Kennedy / Mary Jo Kopechne incident.

Hollywood loves making movies, such as The Wolf of Wall Street that show degenerate behavior by wealthy people; they have shown much less interest in making movies that show degenerate behavior by holders of political power. (If you don’t know what a “waitress sandwich” is, try googling the phrase.)

While it is often observed that money has a corrupting influence on politics, the reverse is also true. The drive of politicians and officials to expand their personal power through endless expansion of government power also has a corrupting influence on business…and on other organizations, such as universities.

And, of course, there is no endpoint to the power-seeking, especially by those politicians and officials in the grip of a “transformational” ideology. To quote Rose Wilder Lane again:

If (the leader)  wants to do good (as he sees good) to the citizens, he needs more power. If he wants to be re-elected, he needs more power to use for his party. If he wants money, he needs more power; he can always sell it to some eager buyer. If he wants publicity, flattery, more self-importance, he needs more power, to satisfy clamoring reformers who can give him flattering publicity.

15 thoughts on “Greed for Power”

  1. A list of politicians at the state or national level who left office poorer than they entered would be interesting. Also very short. Calvin Coolidge might be on it. Maybe Rockefeller in New York.

  2. Income Inequality is the new buzzphrase in Washington. Apparently it is a problem. The 1% are getting richer faster than the other 99%. Where do all these plutocrats live?

    There are about 3000 counties in the U.S. According to the 21012 census, eleven of the richest 25 counties in the country, and 5 of the top 6 are suburbs of Washington, D.C.

    This is the modern Golden Rule: He who makes the rules, gets the gold. Politicians, lobbyists and civil “servants” are the top earners in the country. Those who produce nothing, control everything and make a lot of money doing it. These are the people trying to fan the flames of envy?

    If you want to see the future of the United States, go see the Hunger Games. And remember who the real enemy is.

  3. Indeed … I do wonder sometimes if Suzanne Collins isn’t a closet libertarian or nascent Tea Partier slightly before time. If there is one current pop-culture element guaranteed to alienate teens and tweens against a rich and all-powerful Capitol City ruling with an iron fist over impoverished outlaying districts – the Hunger Games Trilogy would be it.
    (Note – haven’t read the Hunger Games Trilogy – only watched the first movie. And it was … interesting. Quite scathing about mainstream media and reality TV.)

  4. “If one rejects laissez faire on account of man’s fallibility and moral weakness, one must for the same reason also reject every kind of government action.”- Ludwig von Mises

    Another wise man also said that the more you look at redistribution as a policy its major result is not the distribution from the rich to the poor but rather redistribution of power from the individual to the State. 5 years of Obamanomics has not reduced wealth inequality one iota but we are considerably less free in our actions since his arrival.

  5. Andrea Mitchell is following Bill Clinton’s lead. Years ago—on Charlie Rose—he declared Iran a country more progressive than Israel or America. It’s Leftist tradition to recognize the progressive genius of Iran.

    (The similarities between Islam and Progressivism are interesting, and are recognized by Clinton and Mitchell.)

  6. A silicon valley billionaire once remarked “politicians are very cheap”. Most people misunderstand this to mean that a politician expects you to pay his bar tab. It means that for a few million you can get a regulation passed that keeps competitors out of a sub-market and gives you extra hundred millions in sales.

    The problem with this sort of cooperation between business and politicians is that it is exact economic policy that made the Middle Ages Medieval. Currently these bargains between business, guilds and unions on one hand, and politicians on the other, is turning our free market economy into the heavily regulated Medieval economy of France in the 1300’s (a period when people died poor from War, Famine, Pestilence or evil lords after living a short 38 year life of starvation and humiliation).

    Sadly, history shows that the medieval life style of War, Famine, Pestilence and Murder is typical – having prevailed for 300,000 years since the first recorded campsite. The U.S. Free Market economy of the last 200 years is a mistake that occurred in the 1800’s because the American Frontier expanded too fast for government regulations to keep up.

  7. People are judge based on what they are doing, like those who are leading the county they are sometimes misinterpreted by others. I wonder why there are people who wants to have everything and they will do anything just to get it even if it’s wrong.

  8. Grover Cleveland’s response to Obama’s SOTU:

    “When we consider that the theory of our institutions guarantees to every citizen
    the full enjoyment of all the fruits of his industry and enterprise, with only such
    deduction as may be his share toward the careful and economical maintenance
    of the government which protects him, it is plain that the exaction of more than
    this is indefensible extortion and a culpable betrayal of American fairness and
    justice … The public Treasury, which should only exist as a conduit conveying
    the people’s tribute to its legitimate objects of expenditure, becomes a hoarding
    place for money needlessly withdrawn from trade and the people’s use, thus
    crippling our national energies, suspending our country’s development,
    preventing investment in productive enterprise, threatening financial disturbance,
    and inviting schemes of public plunder.”

    Cleveland’s third annual message to Congress (i.e., SOTU), December 6, 1887


    … “inviting schemes of public plunder”. Wow.

  9. Peggy Noonan is finally getting it.

    I watched (The SOTU) at home and thought: They hate it. They being the people, whom we’re now supposed to refer to as the folks. But you look at the polls at how people view Washington—one, in October, had almost 9 in 10 disapproving—and you watch a kabuki-like event like this and you know the distance, the psychic, emotional and experiential distance, between Washington and America, between the people and their federal government, is not only real but, actually, carries dangers. History will make more of the distance than we do. Someday in the future we will see it most vividly when a truly bad thing happens and the people suddenly need to trust what Washington says, and will not, to everyone’s loss.

    As far as the Little Sisters of the Poor;

    Everyone who says that would never have happened in the past is correct. It never, ever would have under normal American political leadership, Republican or Democratic. No one would’ve defied religious liberty like this.

    The president has taken to saying he isn’t ideological but this mandate—his mandate—is purely ideological.

    It also is a violation of traditional civic courtesy, sympathy and spaciousness. The state doesn’t tell serious religious groups to do it their way or they’ll be ruined. You don’t make the Little Sisters bow down to you.

    And politics ?

    Meanwhile, back in America, conservatives targeted and harassed by the Internal Revenue Service still await answers on their years-long requests for tax exempt status. When news of the IRS targeting broke last spring, agency officials lied about it, and one took the Fifth. The president said he was outraged, had no idea, read about it in the papers, boy was he going to get to the bottom of it. An investigation was announced but somehow never quite materialized. Victims of the targeting waited to be contacted by the FBI to be asked about their experience. Now the Justice Department has made clear its investigation won’t be spearheaded by the FBI but by a department lawyer who is a campaign contributor to the president and the Democratic Party. Sometimes you feel they are just laughing at you, and going too far.

    The truly bad thing is coming. I can feel it. It has the feel of The Masque of the Red Death.

    Meanwhile, the party goes on.

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