How Much Good Can One Intelligent, Wise, Brave Leader Do?
By Bryan Caplan
Our instinctive response, when faced with a complicated challenge, is to look for a leader who will solve it. It wasn’t just Obama: every president is elected after promising to change the way politics works; and almost every president then slumps in the polls as reality starts to bite. This isn’t because we keep electing the wrong leaders. It is because we have an inflated sense of what leadership can achieve in the modern world.
Perhaps we have this instinct because we evolved to operate in small hunter-gatherer groups, solving small hunter-gatherer problems… The challenges such societies faced, however formidable, were simple enough to have been solved by an intelligent, wise, brave leader. They would have been vastly simpler than the challenges facing a newly elected US president.
Libertarians almost instinctively cheer when they hear words like this. But should they? I maintain that an intelligent, wise, brave president could do enormous good. How? For starters, he could give full presidential pardons to everyone serving time for (federal) drug-related offenses. The president can’t end the drug war on his own, but he could free hordes of innocent people before his term (singular, no doubt) ran out.* And needless to say, there are plenty of other unjust laws a president could negate with blanket pardons.
The lesson: Libertarians should stop insisting that our problems are too complex for any human being to solve. Many of our problems can literally be solved with the stroke of a pen. Any intelligent, wise, brave leader who wants to solve problems faces vast orchards of low-hanging fruit. The only reason the orchards are so bountiful, unfortunately, is that people who are intelligent, wise, and brave rarely make it to the top.
* Question for Gary Johnson supporters: Couldn’t he have done a lot more for liberty by pardoning everyone unjustly imprisoned under New Mexican law? Running for president is an extreme long shot for liberty. Pardoning vast numbers of innocent people is a sure thing.