Prostitutes, pimps & pols
By Donald J. Boudreaux
Published: Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2009,
P.J. O'Rourke's 1992 book, "Parliament of Whores," is rightly hailed as a brilliant and hilarious expose of the essence of modern Washington. Filled with lines like "Giving power and money to the government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys," the book entertains as it instructs.
But its title is not quite accurate. Real whores, after all, personally supply the services their customers seek. Prostitutes do not steal; their customers pay them voluntarily. And their customers pay only with money belonging to these customers.
In contrast, members of Congress routinely truck and barter with other people's property.
A better title for O'Rourke's book would have been "Parliament of Pimps."
Members of Congress are less like whores than they are like pimps for persons unwillingly conscripted to perform unpleasant services.
Consider, for example, agricultural subsidies. Each year a handful of farmers and agribusinesses receive billions of taxpayer dollars. These are dollars that government forcibly takes from the pockets of taxpayers and then transfers to farmers.
The customers, in this case, are the farmers and agribusinesses. The suppliers of the services performed for these customers are taxpayers, for it's the taxpayers who possess the ultimate asset -- money -- that farmers and agribusinesses lust after. And the intermediaries who oblige the suppliers to satisfy the base lusts of the customers are politicians. Just as pimps facilitate their customers' access to prostitutes' assets, politicians facilitate their customers' access to taxpayers' assets.
We taxpayers have less say in the matter than we like to think. Sure, we can vote. But if even just 50.00001 percent of voters cast their ballots for the candidate proposing higher taxes, the assets of not only our pro-tax citizens, but also those of the remaining 49.00009 percent of us anti-tax citizens are put at the disposal of our pimps' customers. (And note that many of those who vote for higher taxes are not among those persons actually subject to higher taxation.)
If enough members of Congress decide to further their political fortunes by giving more money to farmers, or to corporations pushing "green" technologies, or to nearly bankrupt banks, or to whomever, the money given doesn't come from the personal assets of these politicians.
Instead, politicians force taxpayers to pony it up -- just as the services rendered for a pimp's customers are rendered not by that pimp personally, but by the ladies under his charge. The pimp pockets the bulk of each payment; he's pleased with the transaction. His customer gets serviced well in return; he's pleased with the transaction. The only loser is the prostitute forced to share her precious assets with strangers whom she doesn't particularly care for and who care nothing for her.
Also like the ladies under pimps' power, taxpayers who resist being exploited risk serious consequences to their persons and pocketbooks. Uncle Sam doesn't treat kindly taxpayers who try to avoid the obligations that he assigns to them. Government is a great deal more powerful, and often nastier, than is the typical taxpayer. Practically speaking, the taxpayer has little choice but to perform as government demands.
So to call politicians "whores" is to unduly insult women who either choose or who are forced into the profession of prostitution. These women aggress against no one; like all other respectable human beings, they do their best to get by as well as they can without violating other people's rights.
The real villains in the prostitution arena are those pimps who coerce women into satisfying the lusts of strangers. Such pimps pocket most of the gains earned by the toil and risks involuntarily imposed upon the prostitutes they control. No one thinks this arrangement is fair or justified. No one gives pimps the title of "Honorable." Decent people don't care what pimps think or suppose that pimps have any special insights into what is good or bad for the women under their command. Decent people don't pretend that pimps act chiefly for the benefit of their prostitutes. Decent people believe that pimps should be in prison.
Yet Americans continue to imagine that the typical representative or senator is an upstanding citizen, a human being worthy of being feted and listened to as if he or she possesses some unusually high moral or intellectual stature.
It's closer to the truth to see politicians as pimps who force ordinary men and women to pony up freedoms and assets for the benefit of clients we call "special-interest groups."
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