Have you ever wondered why government keeps getting bigger even when everyone—including President Obama—says they don’t believe in bigger government?
That’s the puzzle political scientist James L. Payne sets out to answer in Six Political Illusions, a compact, readable book on how we think about government. The explanation of the paradox lies in illusions that mislead us about government’s abilities. “Government is an extraordinarily complicated enterprise, very distant from our daily lives,” he points out. “As a result, we easily fall victim to illusions about it.” These illusions lead policymakers to keep looking to government for solutions to problems, even when these schemes fail—or make the problem worse.
For example, people put their trust in government regulation—of medicine, of commerce, of banking, of trades and professions—even though this regulation hasn’t been shown to be cost effective, and even though it often fails. What’s behind this persistent faith in regulation? It’s the watchful eye illusion, says Payne, which is the belief that government agencies have god-like abilities to watch over and protect humanity. “People don’t stop to consider that government agencies are staffed with ordinary human beings, who have all the usual human failings.”
Payne, who is 71, has taught political science at Yale, Wesleyan, Johns Hopkins, and Texas A & M, and is the author of 15 books on government and politics. “I’ve put in this book the key ideas about government that I’ve learned in fifty years of research and writing. I wish someone had put a book like this in my hands at age 20; it would have advanced my political understanding by decades.”