Knights or Knaves, Angels or Devils? 3

Politics defaults to selfishness.

The first two articles in this series discussed the difference between the traditional view that men and women are inherently sinners who are corrupt by nature, and the modern view that they're inherently noble and are corrupted only by societal defects such as injustice.

The major problem with the latter view is that it leads to lofty levels of self-esteem.  If your self-esteem is too great, you won't be interested in testing your ideas by discussing them with people who disagree with you.  The Democratic leadership was so certain they could take over one-sixth of the American economy by passing Obamacare that they wrote it in secret.

When so many businesses objected to the Obamacare "1099 Provision" that even the Democratic-controlled Senate voted to repeal it, the Wall Street Journal reported that nobody would admit having had anything to do with that part of the law:

Most Democrats now claim they were blindsided and didn't understand the implications of the 1099 provision—which is typical of the slapdash, destructive way the bill was written and passed.

If the Democrats had had the humility to incorporate Republican ideas, or better yet, left the bill on their web site long enough for ordinary citizens and health care professionals to comment as they'd promised to do, the 2010 election might have turned out rather differently.  Recognizing a little evil in yourself, or at least fallibility, generally produces better outcomes.

The Peace Corps

Shortly after Mayor Daley of Chicago fiddled the voting to hand the 1960 Presidential election to JFK, the new President called Americans to action with one of the better-known quotes of Presidential history:

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man[emphasis added]

 - John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address, January 20th, 1961

Mr. Kennedy followed up his call for Americans to serve the international community by creating the Peace Corps on March 1, 1961.  It was authorized by the Congress on September 22, 1961, with passage of the Peace Corps Act.  The law stated the Peace Corps' purpose:

To promote world peace and friendship through a Peace Corps, which shall make available to interested countries and areas men and women of the United States qualified for service abroad and willing to serve, under conditions of hardship if necessary, to help the peoples of such countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained manpower.  [emphasis added]

Sounds noble, right?  We'll send American volunteers to help countries where lack of training makes it hard to build roads, construct schools, or do any of the tasks needed to maintain a modern first-world civilization.  That'll make the natives more friendly towards America and less likely to go to war, right?

Let's take a peek at the record.  Kennedy appointed his brother-in-law Sargent Shriver to be the program's first director.

One of the problems of a President having a large family is that it's hard to avoid requests for favors.  By giving his sister's husband a good job, Mr. Kennedy promoted his own domestic tranquility.  This also made it easier for his family to help their friends find government jobs for their kids - being a relative, the director would return their phone calls.

Most volunteers were liberal-minded students, many of whom stayed in government and supported liberal-leaning ideas.  It wasn't until President Reagan's director Loret Ruppe initiated a business-related emphasis in the Peace Corps in 1982 that conservatives and Republicans joined in significant numbers.

Facilities versus Institutions

The initial goals of sending people to help build roads, hospitals, and schools sound effective, but such facilities require trained people to maintain them.  Helping countries start businesses to employ their citizens and increase government tax revenues is less glamorous but more effective in terms of nation-building over the long haul.

Promoting business skills and setting up the institutions and customs to promote commerce has a profound effect on economic success.  The Economist points out that in 1000 AD, Europe accounted for 9% of world GNP and the Middle East 10%.  By 1700, the Middle East's share had fallen to 2% and Europe's share was 22%.  The major reason, they believe, was that Islamic societies never developed the organizational techniques that allow a business to mobilize large quantities of productive resources over long periods of time:

Whereas business institutions in the Islamic world remained atomised, the West developed ever more resilient corporations—limited liability became widely available in the mid-19th century—as well as a penumbra of technologies such as double-entry book-keeping and stockmarkets.

... the West’s long ascendancy was rooted in its ability to develop institutions that combined labour and capital in imaginative new ways.

The Peace Corps might have had more impact had they worked more with institutional mechanisms for encouraging economic growth.  Unfortunately, boosting business is simply not on the liberal agenda, and ribbon-cutting at new schools makes much better photo-ops.

So what did the Peace Corps accomplish?

  • It gave Mr. Kennedy a way to find a prestigious job for his brother in law.

  • It helped his family help their friends find jobs for their kids.
  • The program drew many idealistic young liberals into government employment.  Many stayed in government.

It's debatable whether the receiving countries benefited or not.  None of them directed whatever lobbying efforts they could muster toward funding the Peace Corps or getting more volunteers assigned to their countries as the Corps budget fluctuated with the political winds.  The effect on other nations attitudes towards America is negligible at best.

As for promoting peace, the best that can be said is that the Peace Corps didn't start any wars, although America was criticized for covering up an investigation when a Peace Corps volunteer was murdered in Benin in 2009.

Other Movements

Politicians seeking power have always tried to engage young people on their behalf because young people have the time and energy for political activity.  Most of the Iranians who protested their stolen Presidential election are students or recent graduates.  Many of Mr. Obama's most enthusiastic supporters were students who weren't old enough to know that most of his ideas had already been tried and found not to work.  Adolf Hitler founded the Hitler Youth and Mussolini organized young Italians to promote his programs.  We know how those youth movements turned out.

Hillary Clinton wrote an entire book claiming that parents need help raising their children.  The social workers and other government actors who've gotten involved in the Child Protection Movement seem more interested in following rules than in actually protecting children.

Thus, when any leader asks for government funding to promote a youth movement or to protect children, anyone who believes that most people are selfish enough to want to benefit themselves more than they want to benefit society asks a lot of questions.  When Roman politicians used to ask Qui bono?, that is, Who Benefits? they stated a principle that we should all keep in mind whenever we hear about any wondrous new government program.

The next article discusses a couple of examples of a gradual drift from knightly behavior towards knavish behavior in two overseas bureaucracies.

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Society.
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