The addictions of fame and power

Matt Yglesias writes:

At the same time, I’ve come to be increasingly baffled by the high degree [of] cynicism and immorality
displayed in big-time politics. For example, Senators who genuinely do
believe that carbon dioxide emissions are contributing to a global
climate crisis seem to think nothing of nevertheless taking actions
that endanger the welfare of billions of people on the grounds that
acting otherwise would be politically problematic in their state. In
other words, they don’t want to do the right thing because their
self-interest points them toward doing something bad. But it’s
impossible to imagine these same Senators stabbing a homeless person in
a dark DC alley to steal his shoes. And what’s more, the entire
political class would be (rightly!) shocked and appalled by
the specter of a Senator murdering someone for personal gain. Yet it’s
actually taken for granted that “my selfish desires dictate that I do
x” constitutes a legitimate reason to do the wrong thing on important

Making it all the odder, the level of self-interest at stake isn’t
all that high. Selling the public good down the river to bolster your
re-election chances isn’t like stealing a loaf of bread to feed your
starving children. The welfare rolls are hardly stocked with the names
of former members of congress. Indeed, it’s not even clear that voting
“the wrong way” poses particularly serious threats to one’s
re-election. But even if it did, one might assume that people who
bother to dedicating their lives to securing vast political power did
so because they actually wanted to accomplish something and get in the history books, perhaps, as one of the big heroes of their era.

I don't intend any particular point about cap and trade, but viewed more generally it's stunning how true this is.  (In fairness, note that the title of this post is my framing, not necessarily Matt's.)  Many people — especially those who become politicians — really do want fame and power and it is amazing what they will talk themselves into to get there and to stay there.  They don't even want fame in the sense of being recognized, in the longer run, for having done the right thing.  They want more personal influence and power now.


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