Iain Murray of the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington was our guest at a Power Lunch in Westminster yesterday. His theme followed the title of a new book he's working on – Why does Al Gore have such a big house?
It's a fair question. It's not as if he built up a fortune in the private sector before he ran for Congress. Indeed, he didn't have a private-sector bone in his body. From Harvard he went to Vietnam (as a journalist), then to Vanderbilt University – and then straight into Congress in 1976. A couple of decades of public service later, he's a very rich man. And he's not the only one.
Murray expressed the opinion that it is exactly this kind of profiting out of the public sector that has made Americans so mad and given birth to the Tea Party movement. (The 'Tea' bit stands for 'Taxed Enough Already'.) People do see their neighbours in public jobs getting higher pay, and a more generous pension into which the state contributes, and longer holidays and shorter hours (and often smarter offices and less stressful work) than they do in the private sector. They see interest groups milking subsidies from taxpayers.
The Republicans may be trying to hijack the Tea Party movement, but overwhelmingly it comprises ordinary people, of all parties and none, who are just fed up with the scam that is the government sector. Many of the leading activists are women who have not been politically active before. This is a real expression of irritation with politicians and the public money trough.
Is there a chance that this grassroots movement will lead to real reforming politicians sweeping the Gorean fatcats out of their publicly financed mansions? "I think there is every possibility that the voters will be disappointed," says Murray. Ah well, that's politics.