What a Politician’s Job Is

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Brad Delong nails it:

If Obama does not understand that his job is not to please the electorate by indulging its prejudices but rather to manage the path to a strong economy, he needs to be told what his job is every hour of every day until he does understand that.

I would broaden this out to all politicians. Your job is not to do what the voters think will make them better off. Your job is to deliver the prosperity – to do the things that, in your read of the evidence, are actually going to work to make most people better off. Issue polls are a nice guide to how much political space you have to do what you think is best, and they matter more the closer you get to an election, if your goal is to get reelected. But that’s about all they’re good for. To put it charitably, voters are not policy experts, and they aren’t paying close attention to the nitty gritty of what you’re voting on. You have a lot of political space, and a lot of agency to do what you think is the right thing, especially fresh off an election.

This entry was posted in Elections.

8 Responses to What a Politician’s Job Is

  1. Ed H. says:

    I’m glad to see you agreeing with DeLong, but I’ve seen far too many poss on this blog looking to convince people that we need to go Galt on workers, by undoing Pennsylvania’s state control of liquor stores or wanting to lower wages by undoing licenses for skilled tradespeople.

    • Jon says:

      I think both those positions are perfectly consistent with a liberal agenda. I’m a public goods liberal, not a make-work liberal. The purpose of government, as I see it, is to provide public goods and public services that the market doesn’t supply or undersupplies. There’s no reason to believe that the market wouldn’t supply enough booze if the state wasn’t selling it. The liquor debate is about who gets the regulatory surplus from alcohol regulation – public workers, consumers or taxpayers? Under the state monopoly, the regulatory rents go to public workers, and I’d prefer to see them go back to the taxpayers. Basically that would mean regulating alcohol primarily through higher booze taxes, and not regulating who can sell alcohol.

      On regulation, I think we should draw a line between regulations that promote health and safety and regulations that exist mainly to protect insiders and block competition. I’m all for the first kind, but don’t support the second kind at all. Restrictions on competition mean lower “real” wages for the broader public, since it makes the goods and services they buy more expensive. Excessive occupational licensing only delivers a concentrated benefit to a few protected insiders and makes everybody else worse off.

  2. Ed H. says:

    That regulatory surplus helps to pay for necessary parts of the budget. It’s been a means to hold off more drastic cuts to education and has the benefits of public safety. Not to mention the fair, bargained for wages and benefits keep demand up, and as we’ve seen in all too many states, laying off state workers with fair wages and benefits has kept Obama on the hook for the economy. Liquor privatization, is mypoic and has not been great for the states that have enacted it.

  3. Ed H. says:

    I suppose that if the liquor stores were closed, you’d be cool with seeing more cuts to education, mental health services and for seniors. Sometimes I wonder if you guys should apply for work in the Corbett Administration, so you can give Corbett a bit of cover for his far right agenda and present you guys as the liberals who cheerlead for his policies.

    • Jon says:

      Actually no, I wouldn’t be okay with more service cuts. It shouldn’t be hard to make up $72 million a year, which is what the PLCB contributes to the general fund. I’d do it by raising the ridiculously low gallonage tax on beer and selling more bar/restaurant liquor licenses.

      The public safety policies that work best are restrictions on advertising and high gallonage taxes. There’s no evidence that PA is getting any public safety benefits from the state monopoly. It’s not like people are drinking at the liquor store.

  4. Ed H. says:

    I see where you’re mistaken. You’re relying on faulty numbers.
    http://www.afscme13.org/PLCBfactsheet.htm
    http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2012/01/06/part-1-controversy-in-harrisburg/
    $100 million in profits, after it pays for itself, and the state police programs on LCB enforcement.
    Not to mention the loss of jobs being replaced by lower wage jobs if the PLCB stores are sold and after the current union contract ends in 2015. That also means a hit to wages and revenues for the state that would need to be made up for.
    You guys should just align yourselves with the Ron Paul wing of OWS and stop pretending you’re liberals. Lowering wages and hurting the economy for working people flies in the face of Progressivism, and you guys seem to be all for the right wing applications of policy for issues that need solutions.

    • Jon says:

      Come on Ed, no need to drum us out of the movement. We just have a legitimate disagreement about a few issues. I support the Democratic Party and a progressive agenda overall. I just think there are a few areas where liberals can honestly disagree. On these issues I think the pro-consumer side has the better argument than the pro-service provider side.

      • Ed H. says:

        Fair enough Jon. I spoke with a little too much hyperbole. Just understand that labor economists and macro economists have been warning us that because wages are too low, that we’re experiencing problems with demand, and some of the ideas you guys have been getting behind will lower wages in the state. Privatize the PLCB stores and watch jobs go away and those left will see wages far below the middle class sustaining jobs they are for over 5,000 workers. We’re in a recession and the loss of jobs and lowering of wages will be more of te Corbettization of the PA economy.
        Not ro mention the revenue losses (over $100 million/year in profits, plus within its budget allocations to liquor enforcement and other programs associated with alcohol). And the fact that after Prohibition, the PLCB was intended to get organized crime out if the liquor business. Keystone Research Center/Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center have linked to studies showing privatization to having few benefits. The right wingers counter it with flawed studies.