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« Hope and Change: Promises to Keep, Divisions to Bridge, and Decisions to Make | Main | World-wide Horwitz »


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I guess, people have vested interest in the smooth progression of status quo. IRAs, 401ks, SS, Medicare, Health Insurance etc. come to mind. 150 years ago, media didn't come inside our bed room. In contrast, now we have 24 hours of propaganda reaching us through the MSM.

An outgoing administration (rightfully) demonized by the media and public; an outgoing administration that greatly centralized and expanded the executive power; an incoming administration beloved by the public and the media; an incoming administration with near complete control of the legislative branch... Scary indeed.

I have written a critique of Mr. Sautet's post here:

Please feel free to comment on my blog, or on here.

hi! quick question:

i'm confused by the implications of ur blog entry. You say that obama is charismatic and has ideas (good ones?). However you mention that its 'not enough', and u list a laundry list of what politics is or isn't.

Lets say the list is 100% true. What type of characteristics would make a good politician given the above is true?

I would expect that a leader with charisma can help solve much of the problems that u list. From my perspective, the things u list are like constraints on politicians. (i.e. he can't do everything he promised, etc). I would think that a charismatic leader can make these constraints less binding. and hence do more.


Your confusion is understandable and quite natural. Austrians themselves are confused on these matters. I try to explain the source of this confusion in the link above your post.

By making Public Choice arguments, Austrians have abandoned Hayekian knowledge problems, and have instead adopted perverse self-interested Public Choice behavioral assumptions that presumably work against the interests of society. And what is worse, and perhaps the source of your confusion, is that they try to connect this to the Austrian research program! What a mess the whole thing is. I have no patience for Public Choice, and a Nobel Prize winner agrees with me (see here:

In short, you should read F. A. Hayek to understand why "charisma" is not enough to escape what you identify as "constraints."

And to put all this in perspective, if you ask your question (which is a good one) to an Austrian and then to a Public Choice theorist, you would get two completely different answers.

So here it is:

"What type of characteristics would make a good politician given the above is true?"

1.) Public Choice: Conformity to constitutional political economy.

2.) Austrian: HUMILITY in the face of ignorance and uncertainty.

Gabbyd, some of us think that the only honourable reason for being in politics at present is to reduce the reach and scope of government intervention. This will require a great deal of activity, and attention to outcomes as well, because deregulation, like regulation, poses the problem of unintended consequences.
Wanted, a charismatic deregulator!


Let me take what you wrote and then ask you a quick question:

Why is deregulation desirable? It can only be for two reasons:

1.) Ethically desirable
2.) Allows markets to work

Now if (1) is true, then you are not really an Austrian, or Austrian economics is no longer "Austrian" if it places its faith in natural rights based arguments. But if you answer (2), then I would simply ask you to re-consider that position in light of the many great works that have been written showing how free markets cannot work. This is what "Post-Austrian" economics is all about.


I'm often confused by what you see as 'Austrian'. You often claim that ideas cannot be Austrian, or that people are not true Austrians because of a,b or c (as you suggest regarding Rafe above). My confusion is that there doesn't seem to be consistency about this. You seem to take one or two lines, interpret them yourself and then may a grand claim. Perhaps it would be good to spell out what you mean be Austrian. It seems to jar against my understanding and many of the ideas on this blog.


Unfortunately, you build arguments made up of confusion added to other confusions. I don't say this lightly because I actually want to encourage you in your studies. But Douglass North's criticisms of "public choice" are not a rejection of public choice. In fact, his latest book --- written with Barry Weingast (one of the leading Public Choice scholars of his generation) and John Wallis (an economic historian who does public choice --- see his paper on corruption), is in fact a contribution to public choice.

North wants us to think about ideology so he goes beyond simplistic understandings of public choice, but he is actually contributing to sophisticated understandings of public choice.

I just spent last weekend with North at a conference honoring his contributions. John Nye, Barry Weingast and myself constituted the panel summarizing Prof. North's work. Nye's paper was on how elites every come to reform systems, Weingast's paper was on the "natural state", and I gave a paper on transitions and credible commitments. In short, all public choice topics. I discussed the relationship of Prof. North's work to Prof. Hayek's as you might have imagined :).

Bottom line: I just am not sure you know what you are talking about when it comes to public choice because you make claims about public choice and Austrian economics which are just not textually viable and do not relate to the arguments I associate with those approaches.

Second, you leap to an argument about how markets work and how markets don't work and again you are confusing claims. The criticisms of markets you often cite are directed at a version of the market that simply has nothing to do with what the Austrians argue. In short, you buy into the sort of exercise that thinkers like Keynes to Stiglitz have followed: I am going to criticize Walras's law, but call it Say's law, and thus anyone who believes Say's Law must believe in Walras's law and thus are wrong. In short, the post Keynesian criticism of the market are criticisms of a vision of the market that is not shared by the Austrians. Again I just plead to you to read Stephan Boehm's reply to Davidson, Runde's reply to Davidson, and also Torr's reply to Davidson. This is not an issue of "dogmaticism" --- I really don't understand your "journey" story with respect to Austrianism --- it is a question of actually making a good argument.

Consider the idea that your understanding of public choice is incomplete (and biased) and your understanding of Austrian economics is confused and that perhaps writing down a string of assertions that are either incomplete and confused is not really making a knock out argument.

And I do suggest that you look at Hayek's The Constitution of Liberty --- this is a contribution that is both Austrian and consistent with some of the main insights of Buchanan's work. So is the Road to Serfdom, and Law, Legislation and Liberty.

It is called POLITICAL ECONOMY --- it has roots in Hume and Smith, and was develoed further by Say and others, and then pursued further by Mises and Hayek, and finally Buchanan. It is also a field that has now been reinvigorated and scholars such as Shliefer, Besley, Acemoglu as well as Douglass North.

I am all for post Austrian economics, but you have to make a decent argument for the post and whether what you are doing has a grounding in Austrian economics that you are going beyond.


What do things like "public Choice Theory relies on the principle of omniscience for its validity" actually mean? If I understand the statement at all, I would answer "no it doesn't".

You really got the emotions right: it's like being high on group-think

I was there in 2000 - out with friends at the ESPN Center in Chinatown. Everyone was cheering with each red state like maniacs. I remember feeling dizzy and I wasn't drinking, like you say it was pure romance.

I think people were cheering for Reagan Part Two. Both sides deify their presidents which is not what the founders intended. Quite the reverse. And a symptom of government growing too big. We now expect Kings to govern us. Throw in that rock-star, media, escapist entertainment component and it gets to be Orwellian.

Since your post rocks, here is a Schoolhouse Rock video c. 1976

"No More Kings"

Pete Boettke,

My earlier comments were a bit strong and misplaced. I think your comment is very good. And to answer Nick's question, my conception of Austrian economics is different (or at least I "think" it is different) because I am trying to understand its methodological points without the assistance of the libertarian ideology and the dogma of laissez-faire. It is still a project in progress, to say the least. But I am making some discoveries, such as Mises as an opponent of equilibrium (and Kirznerian equilibrating) theory, and the Austrian "objective" theory of value. But there needs to be some organizing principles to distinguish this incipient tradition from the rich and long tradition Mr. Boettke did a good job at outlining. I think his comment was very good, and, considering the tone of my earlier comments, was very professional and mature.

Mr. Mueller,

I think we all appreciate your enthusiasm with ideas. I'd like to echo Pete Boettke, however. Young scholars sometime have a tendency to dismiss what came before them and to regard their own work as the only thing of value that will revolutionize the discipline. It is healthy to have some of that attitude, but it is also important to understand and pay attention to what has been said. Many of your points strike me as misinformed. You caricature the people you criticize. The world of ideas is often more subtle than one may think. People's positions are not always easy to pin down in a few words. (And this advice is valid for everyone including me..)

Whether Kirzner is about equilibration for instance is a subject of debate and I would say he is not. I do not agree that Austrian theory of value is "objective", it doesn't make much sense to make that claim in light of the history of economic theory.

As Roger Garrison explained, Austrian economics can be seen as a middle of the road position between neoclassical economics and the radical subjective position of Lachman and others. Whether this is true is a matter of debate and the Austrian tradition is rich enough to show many different facets. But by and large, subjectivism (not radical subjectivism) is a core component that defines the school.

I personally see the Austrian tradition also as multi-disciplinary. I don't think we should be stuck in a certain domain of inquiry just for the sake of it. Using economic sociology, public choice and other approaches can be illuminating because at the end of the day, we are doing social sciences, using Austrian economics as its core.

Using public choice arguments does not (necessarily) invalidate the HKP. I don't see how you can make that claim. In case you don't know them, have a look at two papers on the Austrian and Public Choice tradition. Boettke and Lopez (RAE, 15, 2-3, 2002), and Boettke and Leeson (

Best wishes,

Dr Frederic Sautet

Matthew, your journey appears to be taking you from being an interesting gadfly to something else and it is good to see that Pete Boettke is prepared to write a long comment to help.

On the romance of the moment, it is strange to see this as the victory of the downtrodden. Obama has an affluent middle class background, went to the best schools, outspent his rivals by a very long margin, had the overwhelming support of the media (how much was that worth in dollar and vote terms?) and rode on the back of the worst and most unpopular Republican president ever. He garnered a rock-solid black vote (so much for the end of racism), and almost rock-solid support in the under 29 age group (the childrens crusade).

The most delightful irony is that the decisive factor (even on top of all the others) was the financial meltdown which was blamed on the GOP despite being engineered (unwittingly) by the Democrats, where he was an active agent as a legal advisor to ACORN. You couldn't make it up!

I'm not sure exactly what the target audience of the Austrian Economists and Post-Austrian Economics is. I'd assumed they are directed towards professional economists and educated, interested non-economists (such as myself), because otherwise they wouldn't be presented in a blog format (and the main blog posts here would be much more technical).

However, Matthew's posts (and often Pete's responses to him) seem to be strings of assertions backed by the names of high-status academics. While this form of communication may be efficient for people who have read all that literature, for others it doesn't look like ideas are being discussed at all.

As Dr. Sautet indicates, it leaves me wondering how deeply an individual's ideas are really being considered.

Dear prof sautet,

what is wrong with charisma (in the context of public choice? Matthew (thanks!) said its humility. yes?

charisma and humility need not be mutually exclusive, right?

so what characteristics should successful/good politicians have?

rafe said that the goal of a politician, from your POV, is to limit the scope of government. could this be the REAL criticism? Not his charisma, or getting people to identify with him/like him, but he will expand govt?

I'm not sure I see what's so mysterious in Frederic's point. He is pointing out that the jubilation of the crowd over Obama's victory reflects a mistaken and exaggerated view of what politics can do. That insight is not a statement about what personal qualities a good politician should have.

I think it's fair to say we're just about deifying the man. I voted for him in the primaries and in the general election. I was happy he won. I think he is in an unusual position to do some real good in the world. I also think lots of this stuff about how Tuesday's election was historical and a great event are right on the money, as Steve has been saying. Unfortunately, the power of the state is so great, that Obama is in a position do great damage too. I think Frederic is saying we'd be better off with institutions that left us less subject to the idiosyncrasies of one person, the president. If that's his message I strongly agree.

Part of what's happening in Morgan Ashcom's photos is the sense of identification and solidarity that makes soccer fans celebrate a World Cup victory. It's our caveman programming coming out. "Our team won!" In "Factions of the Circus, and Sedition of Constantinople," Gibbon tells the tale of violent conflict between greens and blues in Constantinople. These were the colors of different circus teams in the hippodrome and the passions associated with these two colors led to a complete collapse of justice and order.

Happily, we're seeing nothing like that in the US today. But the same caveman programming is at work causing people to identify strongly with one party or the other and to feel the party's fortunes personally.

Roger, how do you think all that passion would have spelled out if Obama had lost?

I hear what you are saying about the positives in the result and I am confident that ordinary citizens have enough goodwill in their hearts to make the most of them. I do not have the same confidence in the ideological hatchet persons of left liberalism who are well entrenched in the academies, in the media and the Democrat Party machine.

As an aside, I think that McCain and Palin could be called "The odd couple" on account of the cvs that they submitted for the jobs of CEO and deputy CEO of a big multinational corporation. However in human terms I think they are probably the most admirable people who have got to that level of US politics in living memory.


What would have happened? Obama supporters would have been bummed. What else is to say? I guess I'm missing something in your question. Rafe, "the ideological hatchet persons of left liberalism" are responding to genuine suffering and injustice in the world. Their characteristic sins may differ in quality from the ideological hatchet persons of the right, but not in quantity.

I'm not so hot on McCain the politician, notwithstanding is great courage and fortitude in Viet Nam. I get why thinking persons defend him, however. But Palin? I just don't get that, dude.

Obama has never really led anything to date. He cannot yet be called a leader, given he has not yet performed the function.

Obama is a movie like character. He says a few lines that some find amazing. The problem is they are just line movie lines, they may move the viewers but not reality.

I fear we will be in for 4 years of pretense.

That's a nice post. But I think that the economist in you is mistaken about this:

"Politics is all about promises made and promises broken, vote trading, bureaucracy capture, self-interest, ignorance, and perverse incentives. Politics is done by interest, not by principles. This is because the rules of the game matter more than leadership and charisma, even though they are invisible to most people."

Politics is about *elected representatives* exercising their judgment advancing 'the general will.' Superficially, this state of affairs alarms some people with a liberal disposition, but all of the alternatives should alarm us a great deal more.

The imperfections - the power of lobbyists and pressure groups, the requirement for campaign finance, and so on - can all be overcome, and one day they will be overcome. The campaign finance issue is much less decisive in other polities outside the US, and in other countries, lobbyists are kept at a greater distance. EU regulations (and their national counterparts) limit the capacity of campaign groups to use the media (though the limitations are not effective enough yet).

The economist in everybody needs to forget economics a bit sometimes are embrace the virtues of representative democracy. It's the hidden secret and magic ingredient in the greatest, fairest, most efficient system of government that the world has ever known.

And - on the 'representative' part of that phrase, the progress in not always upwards or one way. The US is steadily becoming more of a direct democracy (it seems to me, looking from the UK) and it would be good if more people recognised this and understood the potential damage it can cause.

as i was getting on metro monday morning, i passed a man waving an obama sign, yelling "vote for change"
i couldnt but help wonder if thats what the german people went to the polls to vote for in 1933


I don't say that charisma is a problem in my post, I just say that it is not as important as the rules that constrain politicians in the context of majoritarian representative systems. My post was not about charisma, but about the romance of politics (what people believe it can bring to their lives).

Charisma can be important to sell a message, no doubt about it. But at the end of the day, what can or cannot be done matters more than ideas. Even if Ron Paul had been elected President of the US, this issue would still be valid.

The personal ideas and traits of characters that I see as fundamental in a politician are:
- a deep commitment to individual freedom;
- an attitude of humility vis-a-vis his/her capacity to design social outcomes (society is a spontaneous social order);
- a belief that property rights are the main pillar of Western societies;
- an understanding that the evolutionary system of the Common Law has solved many more issues than we now believe, which implies a respect for the law of property, law of contract, and law of torts (in other words law is preferable to legislation to use Hayek's terms);
- an understanding that throwing money at an issue does not generally solve problems;
- personal probity;
- lack of envy with regard to the wealth private entrepreneurs can generate;

There are many more moral traits that are important. The problem is that (a) it is rare to find a person with such characteristics in politics and (b) even if you find one, the chances are high that the perverse incentives in the system would crush them. In other words, there aren't many kings or presidents who are also saints (there is only one that I am aware of: St Louis, who was King of France in the XIIIth c.).


thanks prof! i just want to clarify one final question:

you say more impt than charisma and good ideas is ..." But at the end of the day, what can or cannot be done matters more than ideas."

then u list down a few characteristics, personal freedom, property rights, control spending, etc.

in your original post, you listed down characteristics of politics: compromising original promises, "Politics is done by interest, not by principles. This is because the rules of the game matter more than leadership and charisma, even though they are invisible to most people."

my question: do your principles for good politicians help with 'rules of the game' and the fundamental nature of politics (compromise, etc)

it seems not, because your last post says that these people with the characteristics you seek are weeded out ("crushed them"). hence, they are not successful in politics. is this the correct interpretation of what u r saying?

thanks! i'm trying to understand what being a good politician means. Is it the ability to rally people to your cause, overcoming the constraints of compromise? in such a case, a little romance cannot hurt, no? or is it being some kind of consumate political operator, someone who is an expert at compromise, someone who can get things done in washington (which is what you are saying, with your emphasis on 'rules of the game')?

also, i'm not talking about ideology and specific policy, and just interested in what makes a good politician. But if you feel that these two cannot be separated, i would like to ask why not?

thanks again for replying!

A fundamental idea in Constitutional Political Economy since Adam Smith is to establish a political system that minimizes the harm incompetent/self-interested people can do once in power. So there might be good politicians, but we shouldn't worry about them. Assuming that all politicians are knaves is preferable, so that we essentially need to focus on the rules of the game. That's all we need to know (forget about defining what a good politician is).

A fair comment on the politics of celebrity from one of our most experienced and disinterested commentators.,25197,24582660-7583,00.html

"This election marks the triumph of celebrity as the essential organising principle of US politics. There were presentiments of this in John F. Kennedy and even Ronald Reagan. But Bill Clinton was the critical transitional figure who morphed from a traditional politician into a pure soap opera celebrity, with all the baroque plot twists and personal dysfunction."

"George W. Bush was a kind of anti-celebrity and a very flawed politician. But he was an example of the evil twin of celebrity, namely dynasty. US politics is now dominated by celebrities and dynasties. This represents a fantastic regression."

I suspect the regression started in the 1930s when FDR discovered the power of PR, soothing words and fireside chats (nothing to fear but fear itself [and my policies]) and having the writers (Gellhorn, Steinbeck et al) and eggheads on board in large numbers.

Politics is not only romance, it's religion. If you study the decline of traditional Christianity in America, you'll find it parallels the rise of state worship. People are naturally religious, in the most broad sense of the term. If they abandon traditional religions, they will substitute secular ones. Today, all of the faith, hope and love that used to go toward the God of the Bible is now placed in the President. He is our savior, messiah, redeemer.

Private property ownership is a total concept and personal Freedom is simply self-control and self-responsibility,no more and no more than just that.
please check my site with approximately 140 articles posted at, I enjoyed reading yours. Anne Cleveland

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