In her 2013 biography of America's 30th president, “Coolidge,” Amity Shlaes observes: “Economic heroism is subtler than other forms of heroism and therefore harder to appreciate.”
Her point is as profound as it is correct.
A firefighter who runs into a blazing building to save a stranger's life is heroic. So, too, is a soldier who dives onto a live hand grenade to protect others. Such heroism is easy to recognize and appreciate.
But heroism isn't limited to feats of physical courage. Any significant sacrifice of personal welfare is heroic if it is done for the benefit of others or to uphold what is regarded as right.
Nelson Mandela's fight against apartheid, for which he endured 27 years of imprisonment, was heroic.
But while the record of political figures who have acted heroically can be extended, the full list still would be distressingly short. It would certainly be disproportionately puny compared with the number of monuments and boulevards dedicated to politicians.
A genuinely heroic politician, for example, would seldom vote for deficit spending. He or she would understand that doing so is typically a cowardly maneuver to win votes today with government handouts while passing on to future generations the bill for these handouts.
Of course, economically uninformed pundits and the special-interest groups who benefit from today's debt-financed handouts often praise politicians who vote for these handouts as being “heroic” or “courageous.” Such praise makes as much sense as would, say, praise of actor Christian Bale for being “heroic” in his film exploits as Batman. It's fake heroism. It's not real. It's theater aimed at fooling a large audience into thinking someone is doing something that he or she really isn't doing.
Likewise for politicians who bail out bankrupt corporations, protect farmers from having to sell their produce at low prices or promise older Americans that Social Security payouts will never fall. Sure, these actions help some people, but they are paid for with other people's money. (Take note, by the way, that Social Security “contributions” are not and never have been considered by Uncle Sam to belong to the individual workers who make these forced “contributions.” Social Security is a welfare-transfer scheme cowardly portrayed by politicians as a government-run pension plan.)
But even if you regard such government programs as promoting the public interest, they are hardly manifestations of heroism. Performing such political feats increases politicians' chances of securing and maintaining political office, with its myriad personal benefits and gaudy trappings. Politicians certainly do not put themselves or their careers in any peril by pushing for such programs. Quite the opposite.
Far from acting heroically by resisting interest groups' pleas for special privileges — and by being mindful of the welfare of countless people, such as future taxpayers, who aren't organized into clamorous political lobbies — the typical politician spinelessly promotes his or her own career by picking the pockets of others.
Donald J. Boudreaux is a professor of economics and Getchell Chair at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. His column appears twice monthly.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Elsie Hillman, philanthropist and one-time GOP powerhouse, dies at 89
- Steelers defensive end Tuitt shifts into high gear
- Pittsburgh officials unveil major changes to police response to violent crime
- Uniontown man sentenced to 30 months for threatening Obama and his family
- Groups appeal Shell air permit for Beaver County project
- Baldwin Borough man pleads guilty in white supremacist bombs case
- Delphi buys CMU spinoff that makes self-driving car software
- Man accused in crash that killed Export driver rejects plea offer
- Rossi: Pirates foolish to bet on Burnett return
- Technology helps VA Pittsburgh expand ability to serve veterans
- Murrysville oncologist says he had necessary permits to hunt, kill lion