No Matter What Happens, Politicians Will Live Very Well

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Any discussion of the top hotels in Washington, D.C. always includes the Four Seasons, which is situated at the eastern edge of Georgetown. There are arguably better ones in the District today, the new ones a function of D.C. experiencing a boom with money taxed away from its subjects in the fifty states, but even amid a great deal of hotel growth on the very high end, the Four Seasons remains very much part of any conversation about the best.

This is worth bringing up in light of a visit there last week. Precisely because it's such an impressive hotel, the Four Seasons' lobby and other common areas are frequently used as meeting spots by locals not actually staying at the hotel. Visiting with a writer last week whom I edited in the past, I arrived for the meeting early, and waited in the front lobby. What I witnessed wasn't remotely surprising, but bothersome just the same.

For readers who perhaps missed it, an African economic summit that included a talk by President Obama was held in Washington, D.C. last week. As one would expect, leaders of the 54 African nations were in attendance. And if the Four Seasons lobby was at all indicative, many of the African leaders booked rooms for themselves and their staffs at some of D.C.'s finest hotels.

The scene in the lobby was perhaps more notable mainly because Africa is a tragically poor continent. As an Investor's Business Daily editorial noted last week, so poor is Africa that U.S. producers exported more to tiny Belgium last year than to all of Africa combined. So poor is the continent that it still takes in $50 billion per year in foreign aid. Yet despite the grinding poverty endured by its inhabitants, and the certainty that corruption/statism/general ineptitude on the part of its leaders logically has something to do with the poverty, the leaders of what is a failed continent still enjoy the best the U.S. has to offer during their visits.

Some readers will no doubt ask what's to be gained from stating the obvious? They would have a point. To say one of the shortest books in the world is "Politicians You See While Lounging at the Ramada" is to shoot fish in the most crowded of barrels. Politicians live well. End of story.

Still, it's worth remembering that no one is so careless as someone spending the money of others, and politicians are in possession of the most limitless of credit cards. Notable here is that it's always been this way.

Going back to World War II, the non-U.S. parts of the world, and in particular Europe, were largely destroyed. Yet while Europe was on its back, tragically impoverished, and many of its surviving inhabitants reduced to living in caves, its leaders lived lavishly.

While citizens of the Soviet Union were "practically starving" during the war, according to Cita Stelzer's 2012 book, Dinner With Churchill, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill experienced the opposite of deprivation care of Josef Stalin when he visited Moscow in 1942. Stelzer wrote that breakfasts included "caviar, cake, chocolates, preserved fruit, grapes," not to mention eggs, bacon, and anything else. Churchill himself described his dacha right outside of Moscow as one "prepared with totalitarian lavishness."

At Potsdam in July of 1945, noted ascetic President Harry Truman hosted Stalin for lunch. The Soviet leader with the blood and poverty of millions on his hands spoke highly of the wines served, after which Truman sent him "twelve bottles of Niersteiner (1937 vintage) wine, twelve bottles of Port wine and six bottles of Moselle wine as a gift." Considering the wartime rationing that made life rather bland in the U.S., it's a fair bet that most American citizens couldn't access the wine that Truman could with ease, and which was presumably bought with money not his own.

Back to Churchill, the war and tragically slow-growth policies imposed in the war's aftermath sadly impoverished England such that its empire was dismantled, but the want that defined a once-rich country seemingly didn't inform Churchill's actions while he was still leading it in wartime. As Stelzer recounted about those same meetings in Potsdam, Churchill's meal selection one of the nights "was an afterthought that had been flown in from England at the last moment, perhaps to liven up the dull menu." It should be stressed here that Churchill was a remarkable man, the William Manchester books (The Last Lion) on Churchill read like fiction so brilliant was he, as does Stelzer's very positive account, but to read about his seemingly careless doings as England's people suffered can't be said to add to his amazing legacy.

But even with Churchill it's fair to point out that all politicians live well, so once again why bother opining on what is very well known? It's a valid question yet again, but at the very least it should be said that the wastefulness of politicians with money not theirs is hardly the economic stimulant that Paul Krugman, and a largely Keynesian economic profession presumes it to be. We know this because country economies aren't blobs, rather they're a collection of individuals.

Breaking down to the individual the high living of Churchill, Stalin and Truman during World War II, or African leaders last week, their lives of plenty were and are only possible insofar as they were and are able to consume wealth created by others. Ok, we know this is what politicians do, but can any individual reader say with a straight face that their individual economy is enhanced when portions of their paychecks are confiscated only to be spent by politicians, or redirected by politicians to other people and programs they deem worthy? Was your individual economy improved with the bailout of Citigroup?

No doubt the sighting of politicians at the Four Seasons is small in the big picture, and the real government waste surely extends well beyond hotel suites. Fair enough, but readers irrespective of ideology would do well to visit Washington, D.C. with government spending very much in mind.

Billed as necessary to keep the economy afloat, the dirty little secret about all this allegedly necessary spending is that an increasingly fancy Washington has been throwing a party, and all of you have paid for it. "Stimulus" has and has had a Washington, D.C. address.  About it, can any reader honestly say that his economy is enhanced by the wellbeing of our nation's capital?

 

John Tamny is editor of RealClearMarkets, Political Economy editor at Forbes, a Senior Fellow in Economics at Reason Foundation, and a senior economic adviser to Toreador Research and Trading (www.trtadvisors.com). He's the author of Who Needs the Fed?: What Taylor Swift, Uber and Robots Tell Us About Money, Credit, and Why We Should Abolish America's Central Bank (Encounter Books, 2016), along with Popular Economics: What the Rolling Stones, Downton Abbey, and LeBron James Can Teach You About Economics (Regnery, 2015). 

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