"How on earth can a politician telling the truth be a bad thing?"
This got me thinking: should we assess this statement from the standpoint of institutional design or from the standpoint of pragmatic administration? In other words, should we assess the truthfulness of politicians with an eye towards systematic consequences or on a case-by-case basis? I can easily think of hypothetical situations where it is a "good" thing for politicians to fudge the truth (e.g., probabilistic chance that awful event X happens, and the only possibility of preventing event X is if the general population remains calm and orderly).
Let me start by stating that I am an anarchist. This means different things to different people, but to me it means I am anti-State, anti-War, and pro-Liberty. Being pro-Liberty means I believe people have the right to do as they please so long as they do not harm another, i.e. aggress against another. Incumbent in that is the fact that people have the right to retain the fruits of their labor, without it being stolen from them, and can use such “fruit” as they see fit (including trade it). The State is inherently evil as its entire existence is predicated upon theft and coercion. The State exists because it illegitimately claims authority and jurisdiction over individuals on the sole basis of their residence within an imaginary set of lines. The State sustains itself through taxation, which is nothing more than the theft of privately created wealth. The State erects artificial barriers to entry in market places and, contrary to popular belief, creates far more poverty than would otherwise exist. This really deserves its own post, indeed its own multi-volume anthology.
Back to Hume’s comment. “[S]hould we assess this statement from the standpoint of institutional design or from the standpoint of pragmatic administration.” As so often happens, I feel I cannot really respond to this statement. The underlying premise, to me, is flawed. The “institutional design” is a function of the coercive acts of the State. The institutional design of democracy is premised upon individuals electing representatives to reflect/protect/advance their specific interests against the interests of other individuals forced into a “society” with them.
I believe we can only assess the “rightness” or “wrongness” of any statement or action from the standpoint of “does it harm others? does it infringe upon the natural rights of others?” When a politician lies to the general public, it has an effect on markets. By markets I do not only mean equity, credit, commodity, etc markets that are talked about on CNBC and in the Wall Street Journal. By markets, I literally mean every single transaction that takes place between consenting individuals and entities. Such lies have the effect of distorting available information, which, in turn, has the effect of skewing the transaction away from what would otherwise be the natural reactions of markets. This necessarily harms people – decisions are made and actions taken based on information that is flawed due to the calculated lies told by a politician attempting to advance his own interests (which often happen to coincide with the interests of those occupying the power circles created in the first instance by the State).
This creates harm. Some one or some many ones will end up in a losing position because the markets generally were influenced by a conscious lie. At least some portion of those losers would have acted differently but for the flawed information.
I know this is likely dissatisfying, as it does not really address Hume’s comment. I, however, truly believe that it is foolish to attempt to analyze the pragmatism or practicality of political actions taken by State actors. The entire institution is criminal and ought to be destroyed.