Every four years, millions of Americans make the pilgrimage to their voting booth to cast their vote for president. We’re told, “This election is really important” or that “we just can’t afford four more years of _______ and that we really need to win this election to save our country.” And every four years, approximately half of the population is left to face the reality that the country failed to elect the “right” person and that all of us are therefore doomed.
Or are we?
There are two reasons why we shouldn’t worry about who gets elected president: division and public choice economics.
First, when it comes down to it, the president is but one of approximately 6,500 people directly involved in policy. Who are these other thousands of people? One of them is the vice-president, who, per the Constitution, serves as the president of the Senate. There are also one hundred senators and four hundred thirty-five representatives. And then there are over 6,000 staffers, each of which write briefs, analyze bills, hold meetings, and advise their respective politicians on matters of policy. This isn’t meant to diminish the role of the president, who is certainly a powerful individual, but the very notion that this one person alone wields significant power to change the course of the entire federal government is nonsense on stilts.
The second, and more important reason can be found in public choice economics. James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock, rightly considered to be the founders of public choice, argue that politicians are people who respond to their own private interests just like you and I respond to our own private interests. In a democratic system, the winner is the person who best does what the majority of the country wants. The majority of the country is a given at any particular moment – either the majority of us today want to see a higher minimum wage, for example, or the majority of us today do not. The politician that wins the election is the one that agrees with today’s majority. Knowing this, politicians will “move towards the center” and try to be the candidate that best agrees with the majority of people. This is why you see politicians flip-flop after they secure their party’s nomination – it’s why Trump vehemently suggested that we build a wall six months ago but then posted on Twitter, “I love Hispanics!” just a few weeks ago. It’s why Hillary was a defender of marriage being between one man and one woman in 2004 but today is a proud defender of gay marriage rights.
What Buchanan and Tullock are pointing out is that it isn’t the people that are elected that matter, but rather the rules of getting elected and getting reelected that determine political outcomes. Barring a change in these, there is little reason to suspect a change in what Washington, DC foists upon the rest of the country no matter who is elected into office. Looking at the political history of the country, this becomes plainly obvious. For example, the Competitive Enterprise Institute publishes an annual review of new rules and regulations imposed upon the country and every year, regardless of which party is in control, this number grows by leaps and bounds as the size and scope of government continually grow larger and wider. I’ll make what some will call a bold prediction: this trend will continue regardless of the person elected in 2016.
For these reasons, I have no particular fear of seeing Trump, Clinton, or Sanders elected president and you shouldn’t either. My fear lies in what the government will do in 2016.