Toward a permanent political class
Literary agent Janet Reid recently wrote complaining that (a) people who are not agents keep trying to fix how writers find agents, and (b) people who are not politicians keep trying to get into political office.
Trump, of course, is exhibit A. His administration is the rest of the alphabet.
This seems wrong to me on multiple levels. Novels are by authors, not by agents. Nor are they purchased by agents.1 Novels are purchased by readers.2 Do I want an agent who knows what she’s doing? Yes. Do I want agents in general to run the system by which I write and find readers, and by which I find authors to read? Do I want agents to create the laws by which books are written and distributed? Not by a long shot.
That’s the comparison being made: politicians make the laws we all live under. I don’t want literary agents taking that role in the world of books. Writing remains, and should remain, the province of amateurs, not the province of a special writing class. From Ray Bradbury3 to Harper Lee4 to Cormac McCarthy5, the field of writing is filled with people who came up by using their time to write rather than to get a degree in writing.
Anyone can grow up to be a writer. Just like anyone can grow up to be President, as we’ve clearly seen over my life as a voter. This notion that politics has become so complicated that we need a permanent political class is probably why Donald Trump appeals to so many people outside of the political class. Politics was never meant to be a career in the United States. Our first four presidents returned to their family business after leaving office. A family business which no one expected them to sell before going into politics, thus damning them to a political career.
When politicians must be chosen only from those who have decided to make a career out of politics we have established a political class that will come to resemble royalty.
The example in the comments was about how you would choose your plumber, and that you should choose your politician the same way. But the big difference between a plumber and a career politician is that it is reasonably likely that the person who chooses to make plumbing their career is someone who not only enjoys plumbing but who also will be a good choice when you need someone to fix your plumbing problems. It is unlikely that the plumber class as a whole caused your plumbing problems.
The kind of person who chooses politics as a career is, like the plumber, the kind of person who enjoys acting politically. But unlike the plumber, the politician who sees politics as a career is always working on our political house, whether our house needs the work or not. Our political problems have almost all been caused by the political class.
Imagine if the plumber who you chose for your last plumbing problem came by today, changed your plumbing without your asking them to do it, forced you to pay for those unasked changes, and then forced you to pay again when it turned out they’d made your plumbing worse. That would be the equivalent of the career politician.
It may well turn out that politics has become so complicated that only a professional political class can handle it. But if so, that’s where our failure lies, not in electing someone who has not made politics their profession.
Another problem with the plumber/politician comparison is that you can reasonably remain ignorant of plumbing even though plumbers require expertise. Your insurance company is never going to tell you that you should have known the difference between a Findlay sprocket and a Findlay socket when hiring your plumber. But ignorance of the law is usually not an excuse. If politics have become too complex for non-politicians to handle, they have also become too complex for citizens to not break the law.
Further, we as voters do have to know why some policies cause, for example, health care prices to surge while others do not. If politics have become too complex for non-politicians to handle, then they have also become too complex for citizens to be allowed to vote for politicians.
Which you can now sometimes hear the political class’s hangers-on musing about.
Give in to the mindset that only politicians should go into politics and that all politicians should be forced to give up life outside of politics, and you really do have royalty. The political class will let other members of the political class off for violating the law, but not outsiders. Sometimes by explicitly exempting themselves from the laws, but often just through selective enforcement. California government cars will be exempt from traffic tickets. Timothy Geithner doesn’t go to jail for failing to report income to the IRS, nor Senator Kennedy for driving drunk and killing his passenger.
The rest of us can and will.
Politicians can exempt themselves from their stupid laws, such as the Unaffordable Care Act. The plumber class, on the other hand, does not make up the laws of fluid dynamics, and is just as subject to them as their customers.
If more politicians left politics and had to live under the laws they create, we’d have better laws.
In response to The Bureaucracy Event Horizon: Government bureaucracy is the ultimate broken window.
Unless the agent is trying to pull a fast one on the publisher, which does happen.↑
Although the ratio is unfortunately changing in the wrong direction.↑
Who never attended college, claiming to be self-taught from libraries.↑
Who studied law in college, but never received a degree, other than honorary ones.↑
Who never graduated, and in fact only completed one year of college.↑