JOHN STOSSEL'S POLITICALLY INCORRECT GUIDE TO POLITICS,
AIRING ON ABC NEWS' "20/20," FRIDAY, OCTOBER 17
There's tremendous excitement about this year's election. People say that their candidate will fix America. Senator Barack Obama has inspired idol worship that's usually lavished on rock stars. At the Republican convention, one man told John Stossel that Senator John McCain was like "Superman." Stossel says, "Give me a break. Obama and McCain would have to be a combination of Superman and Santa Claus to do what their supporters say they will do." Worse, reports Stossel, politicians' "fixes" often have unintended consequences that are worse than the original problem. Do we really need a president to plan our lives, to direct us? Or does most of life works best when you are in charge? "John Stossel's Politically Incorrect Guide to Politics" airs on "20/20," FRIDAY, OCTOBER 17 (10:00-11:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network.
Spontaneous Order: Most of life is governed by spontaneous order. It regulates how we choose our jobs, hobbies, lovers, recreation and most of the best of our lives. It runs most of the economy. When Stossel tries to "govern" a skating rink filled with expert and beginner skaters (he shouts orders with a bullhorn), skaters hate it. Some fall. A politician observing the problem might say: "We need to elect a more expert leader." Stossel tries that by giving the bullhorn to Olympic gold medalist Brian Boitano. But he does no better.
New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina: After a disaster, people desperately want government help. FEMA, The Federal Emergency Management Agency, is a fulltime specialist in disaster relief. Why do they so often disappoint? Stossel compares Wal-Mart's and FEMA's response to hurricane Katrina. He investigates why Wal-Mart delivered water to people while FEMA bureaucrats dithered. Stossel interviews New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who acknowledges government failure, saying "Government is the problem, at all levels." Nagin says he's improved matters by doing things like computerizing the permit process. But has he streamlined the process? In the worst hit part of his city, homes still look like wrecks. Why haven't they been rebuilt? Amidst the devastation, there are pockets of beautifully rebuilt homes. It turns out they were rebuilt in spite of government, by private charities like Habitat for Humanity. Brad Pitt, Michael Moore and Harry Connick, Jr. showed up to help.
Campaign Finance Reform: People thrill to hear politicians' "solutions." Senator McCain is praised as a reformer, even by his opponents, for campaign finance reform, which promised to get the big money out of politics. Yet campaign finance law, like all our government's laws, is subject to a still more powerful law: the law of unintended consequences. Stossel reports that campaign finance reform has actually made it harder for the little guy to have his voice heard.
A political science professor asked 200 educated people to fill out a sample campaign finance form. No one could answer all the questions correctly. Most gave up. One man said the forms killed any interest he had in elective office: "I'd rather just not get involved in the process if I have to go through the nonsense that I had to go through today." To illustrate how long and complicated campaign finance rules are, Stossel unrolls the law on the football field at the NY Giant's stadium. The rules cover the whole field.
For all its complications, what has "reform" accomplished?
Farm Subsidies: ABC News talks to Maurice Wilder, who's been America's single largest recipient of farm subsidies. Our farm policy was supposed to save small farmers and small towns. Instead, Stossel says it fuels the expansion of industrial mega-farms and the depopulation of rural America. A study from the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City shows the more federal farm dollars a county receives, the more likely it is to lose population.
Stossel also reports that Congress' protectionism has other unintended consequences. Food costs more because farmers are paid not to farm. Stossel uses home video cameras to show how real estate agents sell homes to non-farmers by promising "farm" subsidies. Without subsidies, some farms will go out of business. That's ok, says economist Walter Williams, it's the creative destruction that makes America strong. "When there's progress, certain jobs are destroyed and certain jobs are created," says Williams.
Today both Obama and McCain advocate similar subsidies to try to protect auto companies and banks. "Is that working?," asks Stossel.
Who will run America? Listening to the media and the political class, one would think the election is about who will "run America." But Stossel says politicians don't run the country. What happens in the White House matters less than what happens in your house. 300 million free individuals run the country. "We don't appreciate the things that we do on our own that are not designed by anyone but still get solved. We naturally assume that good stuff that happened must have been caused by someone -- the President, a planner, an expert. We forget solutions emerge without anyone designing them," says Russ Roberts, professor of economics with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.
The candidates shout about "change," but David Boaz, Senior Vice President of the Cato Institute, points out that most change doesn't come from politicians. "It comes from people inventing things and creating� Our world is going to get better and better, as long as we keep the politicians from screwing it up."