“The Forgotten Man” in Missouri
Read this short article from the Springfield News-Leader offering an encouraging account of politicians avoiding partisan wrangling and getting along at a recent Springfield announcement. Then read the quote by William Graham Sumner from which the title of the The Forgotten Man by Amity Shlaes is taken (or re-read it, given that many of you have probably read Shlaes’ book):
As soon as A observes something which seems to him to be wrong, from which X is suffering, A talks it over with B, and A and B then propose to get a law passed to remedy the evil and help X. Their law always proposes to determine what C shall do for X or, in the better case, what A, B and C shall do for X. As for A and B, who get a law to make themselves do for X what they are willing to do for him, we have nothing to say except that they might better have done it without any law, but what I want to do is to look up C. I want to show you what manner of man he is. I call him the Forgotten Man. Perhaps the appellation is not strictly correct. He is the man who never is thought of. […]
He works, he votes, generally he prays — but he always pays — yes, above all, he pays.
Don’t take this as a specific criticism of any of the officials discussed in the News-Leader article. Even more so, don’t take it as a criticism of the programs discussed in the story, especially the great people in the Missouri National Guard. The deal to lease part of the airport may well be a good deal for taxpayers.
However — and I want subtlety to be my friend here — is it really that amazing that politicians will get along at an event where they are all either spending or receiving other people’s money? State tax dollars are being used to lease local government property, and it is supposed to be noteworthy that all the politicians are happy? It does not matter that the expenditure in this example is an arguably fully legitimate use of public money. (I’ll leave aside for a moment that it could be even better if the Springfield airport were privatized, like its competitor to the south in Branson.)
Anyone who sees public officials getting along in an instance like this and thinks that it is a notable example that bears repetition lacks an understanding of public choice economics and interest group politics.