Celebrating Their Achievements Part 2: WTF, Over?

     In a comment upon the earlier essay, my Gentle Reader George asks:

     How is it possible for anybody this inept and inarticulate to get to such a position? I realize she “moved up” on her back however, I cannot honestly believe that ANYBODY (let alone a dim) could think putting her in such a position was a good idea?

     Well, it’s a long story. But the root of it lies in something we benefit from every day…just not in the political sphere. It’s called the division of labor:

     Division of labor combines specialization and the partition of a complex production task into several, or many, sub-tasks. Its importance in economics lies in the fact that a given number of workers can produce far more output using division of labor compared to the same number of workers each working alone. Interestingly, this is true even if those working alone are expert artisans.

     The production of lead pencils is a traditional example. Leonard Read used that subject in an illuminating and instructive essay. Rather than quote from it at great length – valuable though it is – I’ll exhort my Gentle Readers to download it from the Foundation for Economic Education (it’s free) and enjoy it in private. But I will quote one particularly important passage:

     I, Pencil, simple though I appear to be, merit your wonder and awe, a claim I shall attempt to prove. In fact, if you can understand me—no, that’s too much to ask of anyone—if you can become aware of the miraculousness which I symbolize, you can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing. I have a profound lesson to teach. And I can teach this lesson better than can an automobile or an airplane or a mechanical dishwasher because—well, because I am seemingly so simple.
     Simple? Yet, not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me.

     And it is so. But the partition of the various tasks involved in making a pencil is why they’re both cheap and under-appreciated. Specialists have analyzed, capitalized, and refined their individual parts of the job to the point that even today, with the dollar weakening to the point of myasthenia gravis, they cost the retail purchaser perhaps ten or fifteen cents apiece.

     That’s the salutary effect of the division of labor. In the marketplace, it works to our benefit. Anyone who’s specialized in a particular field will already understand this, even if inarticulately. But in the realm of politics, it has produced a form of tyranny unique to our nation.


Everett Dirksen’s Three Laws of Politics:

  1. Get elected.
  2. Get re-elected.
  3. Don’t get mad; get even.

     The above are the most revealing statements ever made about politics in a republican polity whose officials are chosen by ballot. (I refuse to call the U.S. a “democracy.” It is no such thing, though much effort has been put into persuading you that it is and should be.) The goals of the politician, ultimately, reduce to those three. The first is imperative because the politician wants power; that’s why he’s a politician. The second is imperative because an official’s power increases over his tenure in office. The third, which many have deemed facetious, may be the most imperative of the three, for if practiced consistently it teaches other politicians that you are not to be trifled with. As some philosopher or other said, “Mess with the bull and you get the horns.”

     But if those are the goals of the professional politician, what can we deduce about the skills he needs? Do they go beyond what he needs to get elected repeatedly, and to secure his place in the power hierarchy? I can’t see it. Moreover, we have ample evidence that the great majority of sitting executives and legislators in The Land of the Formerly Free have no other skills of importance.

     But we’re not yet done with political specialization. For there is a further division and refinement of the tasks. Some of the skills essential to the pursuit of high office can be farmed out. The politician himself need not be adept at getting elected if he can secure the services of canny campaign managers and strategists. Those hirelings will study the electorate, figure out what positions are most likely to win voters’ allegiance, and then teach the politician – in this scenario, essentially a figurehead for his campaign specialists – how to present himself as their champion.

     Thus we arrive at the reduction of the politician himself to a front man for skilled operators the public generally does not see. Contemporary image engineers can take an essentially empty vessel like Kamala Harris and make her look like a dusky combination of Solon of Athens, Clarence Darrow, and the young Abraham Lincoln. Moreover, they had to do so, even with the backing of Willie Brown, to get her elected to the United States Senate.

     And it all arrives through specialization and the division of labor.


     The balance of power among political specialists might recently have gone through an evil transformation. For a new breed of specialist has appeared on the scene: the expert at vote fraud. An election that cannot be won may nevertheless be stolen. For the scruple-free, that might seem a more attractive route toward power than the crude selection and grooming of candidates. And it does seem that election-theft specialists are available in many parts of the country today. But this is too long and too ugly a subject to occupy us on a sunny afternoon in April.