Moscow on the Adriatic

Nothing original here, this was inspired by some recent Matt Yglesias posts:

1.  Russia is a mafia-ridden corporatist state.

Italy invented the term ‘mafia.’

2.  The Russian government controls the media.

Berlusconi owns the media.

3.  The Russian government likes to have reporters killed.

Berlusconi likes to joke about it.

4.  The Russian government is soft on Qaddafi

Italy is too.

5.  Putin jokes about ruling until he’s 120.

Berlusconi does too.

6.  Putin projects a macho image.

So does Berlusconi.

Consider the following quotation from Tyler Cowen (which I strongly support:)

SHAFFER: What’s one economic lesson you wish all politicians would learn?

COWEN: A simple one is to do the right thing. That sounds naïve, but if you think about these people, if they don’t get reelected, the jobs and lives they fall into are remarkably good. And I don’t just mean by the broader historical standards of the human race, compared to the Stone Age, but even compared to other wealthy people in 21st-century America. So most politicians ought to have the stones to vote for what they think is right, even if it may be an idea I disagree with, and say to the voters, “Send me back to my life as whatever. I’m willing to do this to address our fiscal problems, or fight for the right kind of reform, and risk my office.” And I just don’t see much of that. And that’s disheartening.

Forget about whether a country is ruled by the left (Chavez, Kim Jong Il) or by the right (Putin, Berlusconi.)  The success of governance is highly (and negatively) correlated with how much contempt their leaders have for Tyler Cowen’s admonition.  If they don’t agree with Tyler, then their governments are both corrupt and ineffectual.  In the modern world the terms ”left” and right” are becoming increasingly meaningless.

A few weeks back I got push-back from commenters who seemed to think I was naive in arguing that politicians shouldn’t favor the special interest groups that got them elected.  Politics is about doing deals (they argued)—I help your special interest, you help mine.  But if it was so easy to do Pareto-improving deals, then why are the economies of corrupt countries so messed up?

I’m afraid that altruism is our only hope.  Without at least somewhat idealistic politicians, there is no hope, no safety net to stop us from falling into into a gangster state.  And we won’t have civic-minded politicians without a civic-minded public.  All over the world (except Denmark) moms are inculcating dictator values into their cute little babies—raising the next generation of Putins and Berlusconis.

About Scott Sumner 491 Articles

Affiliation: Bentley University

Scott Sumner has taught economics at Bentley University for the past 27 years.

He earned a BA in economics at Wisconsin and a PhD at University of Chicago.

Professor Sumner's current research topics include monetary policy targets and the Great Depression. His areas of interest are macroeconomics, monetary theory and policy, and history of economic thought.

Professor Sumner has published articles in the Journal of Political Economy, the Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, and the Bulletin of Economic Research.

Visit: TheMoneyIllusion

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