In yesterday’s meeting in Chicago between President-elect Obama and Senator McCain, Mr. Obama said that they were going to discuss how to “work together to fix up the country”. This language really rankles me. It also rankles Russ Roberts, whose comments on this remark reflect my dislike of the “fix the country” metaphor:
Yep. The country is like a house. It just needs a new coat of paint, some piering done in the basement and some dry wall replaced. This is the biggest fantasy of politics, that the country is broken or damaged and we just need to get a different contractor in charge of the project who knows more about how to do renovations. It is a dangerous metaphor and an inaccurate one. It ignores the fundamental insight of economics that there are no solutions only trade-offs. It presumes, impossibly, that we share goals as a people when in fact, virtually every government policy benefits one group at the expense of another.
I actually think Russ is being a little generous. Not only is this “fix the country” metaphor dangerous and inaccurate; it can also reflect the extent to which politicians have the hubris to believe that they can control and manage outcomes. We are living with that hubris on a daily basis right now.