by Mike Kimel
Watching the slow motion train wreck that is the European economy right now, and the Argentine economy just about always, I started to wonder – should political leaders be personally liable for their failures? Obviously, there is no way that someone whose ineptitude puts a creates a crash that causes severe economic hardship to other people can make the other affected people whole. Additionally, in most cases, many of the other people affected share some of the blame. Don’t like the fact that GW started a war for seemingly no reason in Iraq and left behind an economic mess? Don’t like it that Obama has not only failed to failed to prosecute the scofflaws who created the mess, he has done as much as humanly possible to ensure they continue to profit using your tax dollars? Too bad, because if you’re over reading this you probably voted for at least one of those two guys.
Holding people accountable also faces the problem of mis-placed blame. There are several think tanks, some which have been around for decades, whose primary purpose in practice appears to be “proving” that the period of fastest measured real economic growth in this country’s history, a period that came scarcely four years after the biggest meltdown in this country history, was the height of economic mismanagement. The end result, of course, is that we haven’t so much as had a debate on using the solutions that worked so well in the previous meltdown this time around, and the economy is still shaky. (For reasons that are obscure to me, much of Europe is actually trying the exact opposite approach to the policies that have worked historically.)
But let us say it was possible to correctly assign blame where it is due. Should we then hold those people who create big economic or political disasters accountable? If their actions lead to the senseless deaths of tens or hundreds of thousands, or the reasonless penury of millions, should they be held accountable? Sure, you could never extract the trillions in lost economic output from those whose decisions made and/or enabled the mess, but it should be possible to punish them in some ways, enough so that the next people in the same position face a different set of incentives.
Bear in mind: leading a nation, holding the fate of one’s compatriots in one’s hands is not a right, its a privilege, and arguably, the ultimate privilege. People put huge sums of money and a lot of effort into attaining that privilege, or even just influencing who gets that privilege. Those who do get it, or even are somewhat close to it, not only enjoy that privilege but also profit immensely. Put another way – being a national leader apparently has nothing but upside. Is that really a good thing? Does it encourage especially inept or corrupt people to seek public office, and make it more likely that such people will win? And what should we do about it?