• Politics has a terrible track record at solving problems and is zero-sum
  • In fact, politics typically makes the problems worse
  • Markets are a problem-solving machine, characterized by win-win interactions

Political “solutions” to problems are zero-sum. They typically fail miserably and make the situation worse, and sometimes they create new problems. Despite this abysmal track record, however, many continue to insist that society’s problems result from politics and government having too small of an influence in our lives.

By “zero-sum” we of course mean actions in which one side gains only through another side losing. Because government has no resources of its own, government programs are zero-sum. Welfare payments may benefit the recipient, but only at a loss to the taxpayers funding them.

The federal government spent $567 billion in the month of April alone, nearly $19 billion every day, almost $800 million every hour. For fiscal year 2023, which concluded in October, the federal government spent $6.13 trillion, equating to nearly $17 billion every day. And that doesn’t count the nearly $3.8 trillion spent by state and local governments. All told, federal, state, and local governments combined to spend about $29,000 for every man, woman, and child in the country, or more than $115,000 for a family of four.

Federal, state, and local governments combine to spend $115,000 per family of four.

Politics is not equipped to solve problems. Instead, politics is a battle for power, a contest between rival factions to accumulate and expand their own power, which is exercised to control the lives of citizens.

Politics waged a “war on poverty” beginning in the 1960s. While poverty was receding in the decades prior, after several decades and countless trillions of dollars later poverty has barely budged, millions of people have become dependent on government instead of self-reliant, and the two-parent family unit has been destroyed, resulting in generational poverty concentrated in minority communities.

Politics has been on a decades-long mission to address homelessness, and after countless trillions spent on that mission, chronic homelessness is at an all-time high.

Politics promised to make health care, college, and housing more affordable. Instead, each of those has been among the fastest-rising costs of any industry in the economy. As a result, U.S. homes became the least affordable on record in 2023, college debt has doubled in the last 20 years, and about two-thirds of bankruptcies are caused by medical debt.

Politics controls the nation’s K–12 public education system. Over the past several decades inflation-adjusted per-pupil spending has skyrocketed while results remained flat at best. Meanwhile, from 2000 to 2019, the growth of administrative staff grew at a pace eleven times as fast as both student enrollment and teachers.

Here in North Carolina, while student enrollment increased just 2.5 percent from FY 2004–05 to FY 2022–23, the number of non-classroom various administrators swelled by a whopping 82 percent.

Politics and government also largely control our roads, highways, water, ports, and energy infrastructure. They want to tell you what kind of car you can buy in the belief they can control the weather, too. Politics and government heavily subsidize — with your tax dollars — child care, universities, “renewable” energy, politically connected major corporations, and sports stadiums. They also heavily regulate food, medicine, and finance — and oh, by the way, control the money supply.

There’s much, much more I’m leaving out, but you get the picture.

Despite all of this evidence, there are millions of people across this nation who will tell you with a straight face that they believe governments are starved for resources, and if they just had more money they could solve more of society’s ills. The next marginal increase in government spending, regulation, mandates, and control will surely improve things, they’ll insist. Just ignore the huge track record of massive failure you’ve witnessed for decades.

Perhaps it’s time we recognize that politics is not the answer.

Instead, let’s recognize markets as being the great problem-solver. For starters, market transactions are voluntary and win-win. Both parties to the transaction walk away with something they value more than what they gave up.

Peeling back the regulations, subsidies, mandates, and other layers of government involvement in health care, housing, college, and so many other industries will empower market forces and competition to drive prices down and make them more affordable to more people.

Those goods and services with minimal political interference have not only experienced slower increases in price, many of them have seen prices fall dramatically over the past several years, while improving in quality.

Allowing markets to expand to replace the influence of politics will be a far more effective “war on poverty.” The resulting economic growth will improve living standards for all, reducing the number of those in need while also creating greater wealth that can be used to provide aid.

Expanding school choice programs to empower parents and families, rather than politicians and bureaucrats, will place greater emphasis on student achievement results, rather than the public school’s tendency to focus on increasing inputs like administrative positions.

Where politics fails, markets deliver. Even when it comes to progressives’ hobby horse of economic inequality, markets are superior. Where progressives complain loudest about inequities in results is where you will find the hand of government the heaviest.

In short, where markets — not government — dominate, the poor are much better off and racial and economic disparities fall.

Politics is dominated by zero-sum interactions, tribal turf wars over power, and corrupt political payoffs. Politics rewards backroom deals, broken promises, siphoning taxpayer dollars to patronage networks, and vote-buying schemes using taxpayer dollars to increase dependency and create a reliable voting bloc.

Markets, in contrast, are characterized by voluntary, win-win interactions, greater choice and efficiency, and social cooperation. Markets reward serving others with a product that improves their lives at a price they are willing to pay and entrepreneurial risk-taking that creates value for consumers.

The choice is clear.