During the election season, many Catholics wonder why so many Catholic politicians do not vote according to their professed beliefs. It is disheartening to have one famous Catholic politician say publicly that he takes his faith very seriously and a woman’s right to choose abortion very seriously as well. The answer can be found in a relatively new school of economics called Public Choice. Since economics studies the actions of people in general, the laws of economics, logically, apply to the actions of persons in public office as anywhere else. In this case, we will study what is called the “median voter rule.”
A normal statistical curve looks somewhat like a camel’s hump with a line straight up the middle. That middle line is the average. Assuming that this is a curve of voters, 68.2% of all the voters fall within one standard deviation of either side of this average voter. This is the majority. Now, the United States, not being a Catholic country, cannot boast of the average voter agreeing with the most of the tenets of the Church on moral-political issues. So unless the candidate is from a state or district where the mean (or median) voter agrees with the Church on public issues, he will not be able to get majority support. This is why, at times, a candidate will speak to religious groups and assure them that he agrees with them, and then, if he happens to get elected, votes inconsistently—if he wants to keep his job. This politician might have gotten elected the first time by avoiding any controversial stands, so that even the median voter liked him. But in office, a stand must be taken on issues that appear in legislation. This becomes public record, and that is when we see a movement to the “center,” i.e., waffling on serious issues. After all, who wants to come home and tell his wife that after moving all the way to Washington, they now have to go back home and he has to get a real job?
PUBLIC CHOICE II—PUBLIC SERVICE
Now let us talk about the notion of public service—the idea that governmental people are in their jobs only to help others.
One of the basic premises of economic theory is that people generally act in their own interest. Contrary to what you may have heard, this is not necessarily a bad thing. If we did not act in our own interest, we would not be able to put food on the table, or go to the doctor when ill, or go to school, or marry the person with whom we are in love. The world would be topsy-turvy. We would work for no pay and starve to death; we would die of a curable illness, and our married life would be a living hell. This does not preclude working for others—as any legitimate occupation is automatically done for others, or no one would pay you for it.
But things change when it comes to working for the government, and especially on the margins. Self-interest leads men to produce products and services their customers need or want. In government, self-interest produces programs that some people want at the expense of others, with one main beneficiary being the one who administers the program for pay. In the market, when a product or service is no longer wanted or needed, people stop purchasing it, and the business fails, or produces another one that people are willing to buy. In government, if a program no longer works, it does not go away, but continues year after year, wasting more and more of peoples’ hard-earned money, and, in some cases, such as welfare dependency, ruining peoples’ lives. On the margin refers to when a politician gets stuck in a dilemma. Suppose a politician takes a strong stand in favor of issue A. Suppose then his district changes its views and generally opposes issue A. If he continues his strong stand, he will get voted out. This means he will have to change if he wants to stay in office, or he will have to waffle on it to make his stand acceptable to the new demographic in some way. This will lead him to make distinctions, subtleties, etc., which will make him seem to support both sides. His new stand will depend on how you read his remarks.
Why, then, do so many Catholics look to government as the solution for social problems? The answer seems to be that they have fallen for the “racket.” Politicians would not get elected if they admitted what they were up to, so they must persuade the population that they are out for the public interest. Since most of the people have never studied these things in any serious fashion, they believe the propaganda. This is not to say that there are not any sincere politicians out there, but, again, on the margin, they will be exposed.