Saturday, August 17, 2013

Politics without romance

Many people have puzzled over the seeming contradiction between the fact that approval ratings of the US Congress are near single digits but incumbents keep being re-elected.  The simple story is that the people who bother to vote are not the ones who answer survey responses.  Or Congress in the abstract is easy to dislike but "my rep" is an entirely different matter.

I have just read This Town by Mark Leibovitch which is thoroughly enjoyable. The author is not Fox News or MSNBC. He has the just the right touch whereby he can describe the Washington DC egos and situations and the unfolding spectacle always speaks for itself.

Of all the things I teach, the one that is seemingly the oddest to most students is the story of public choice and "politics without romance."  Many people have an odd romantic attachment to politics and the inchoate idea of "the public interest."  Dan Klein wrote about "The People's Romance" a few years ago.  He has a point.

We chuckle at the bizarre attachments that citizens of petty dictatorships display toward their regime. I refer not to the obvious cronies but the many others who are swept up. Nazi Germany stands out because a broad and educated middle class eagerly took up the state religion. Politics without romance is pretty clear to some but somehow exotic to many others.