A Free-Market Energy Blog

Political Economy 101: Some Quotations to Ponder

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- November 8, 2012

The recent election is reason to step back and examine the dangerous institution of politics and why it needs to be a small part of everyday life. Two very wise men said as much long ago. Voltaire (in 1764): “In general, the art of government consists in taking as much money as possible from one party of the citizens to give to the other.” Bastiat (in 1848): “The State is the great fiction through which everyone endeavors to live at the expense of everyone else.”

And to the 20th century and H. L. Menken (in 1924) who likened “a good politician, under democracy” to “an honest burglar.”

And now for two 21st century observations, one from on-high and the other from the ground:

“When government undertakes tasks for which it is ill equipped it squanders the authority necessary for carrying out its core responsibilities. Pervasive rent-seeking, bad for our economy and worse for our republic, should be discouraged instead of rewarded. If government becomes integral to securing every advantage and assuaging every grievance, then governance becomes impossible.” (Richard Voegeli)

“I’m not looking to be loved [as New Jersey governor]. I get plenty of love at home—and when you’re looking for love in this job, that’s when deficits get run up.” (Chris Christie)

Thomas Sowell

Here are some salient quotations from the Marxian-turned-free-market-economist Thomas Sowell (1930–):

“No one will really understand politics until they understand that politicians are not really trying to understand our problems. They are trying to understand their own problems–of which getting elected and re-elected are number one and number two. Whatever is number three is far behind.”

“The government is indeed an institution, but ‘the market’ is nothing more than an option for each individual to choose among numerous existing institutions, or to fashion new arrangements suited to his own situation and taste.”

“One of the most pervasive political visions of our time is the vision of liberals as compassionate and conservatives as less caring.”

James Buchanan

And some insight from the Nobel Laureate in economics, James Buchanan (1919–):

“Public choice [economics] rejects the notion that the state is wiser than individuals.”

“Government policy emerges from a highly complex and intricate institutional structure peopled by ordinary men and women, very little different from the rest of us.”

“’I can’t figure out if people are bitching about the market because it works or because it doesn’t work’.” (a favorite quotation from my teacher Frank Knight)

“How would the U.S. be different today if people coming off the boat were greeted with a welfare check instead of a shovel?”

… And a Few More

“The influence of special interests is now at an extremely unhealthy level. And it’s to the point where it’s virtually impossible for participants in the current political system to enact any significant change without first seeking and gaining permission from the largest commercial interests who are most affected by the proposed change.” (Al Gore)

“When buying and selling are controlled by the legislature, the first thing to be bought and sold is legislators.” (P. J. O’Rourke)

“To act on a behalf of a group seems to free people of many of the moral restraints which control their behavior as individuals within the group.” (F. A. Hayek)

And how about some naivity from Mr. Government himself? “These are decisions [on loan subsidies] … are made by the Department of Energy. They have nothing to do with politics.”

Readers are invited to add their own favorite worldview political quotations in the comments section.


  1. ttanton  

    “You can’t fight Santa Claus.”


  2. rbradley  

    Good point Tom. And “Free things and freedom are incompatible.”


  3. Ed Reid  

    “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.”

    ? Gerald R. Ford


  4. Jim Clarkson  

    “There is no government like no government.”


  5. Marlo Lewis  

    I would amend Tom’s quote as follows: “A generous Santa Claus always beats a stingy Santa Claus.” In other words, Me-Too Republicanism doesn’t work.


  6. Ed Reid  

    “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”
    H. L. Mencken


  7. Kathy Hamilton  

    “I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever, in religion, in philosophy, in politics or anything else…If I could not go to Heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.”–Thomas Jefferson


  8. KuhnKat  

    And at the first chance Chris Christie buried his nose rent seeking!!!


  9. tmtisfree  

    “The great movement toward government has not come about as a result of people with evil intentions trying to do evil. The great growth of government has come about because of good people trying to do good. But the method by which they have tried to do good has been basically flawed. They have tried to do good with other people’s money.

    Doing good with other people’s money has two basic flaws. In the first place, you never spend anybody else’s money as carefully as you spend your own. So a large fraction of that money is inevitably wasted. In the second place, and equally important, you cannot do good with other people’s money unless you first get the money away from them. So that force – sending a policeman to take the money from somebody’s pocket – is fundamentally at the basis of the philosophy of the welfare state.”

    – Milton Friedman, 1978. Tax Limitation, Inflation & the Role of Government.


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