This article by Jason Riddle originally appeared in the Freeman on 11/09/2100.
_As I was watching the recent GOP debate in Las Vegas, I couldn’t help but think of the millions of people that enter the casinos expecting to beat the odds. Some do. However, most do not. There is a reason why gambling is a multibillion dollar industry. Big profits are made as relatively small amounts are lost by the masses trying to beat the system. Of course gambling may be regarded as entertainment, but the relevant feature of gambling for present purposes is that it is a zero-sum game. One person’s winnings are necessarily another’s losses. Wealth is transferred, and the house always wins so long as enough people play the game.

Similarly, politics operates as a zero-sum game. Economist Robert Murphy points out that our current political system is actually a negative-sum game, but even if we could eliminate all bureaucratic waste, we cannot escape the simple truth that when an individual wins political favor, he or she only benefits at the less obvious expense of someone else. There is no such thing as a magical public fund from which political gifts spontaneously generate. No matter how noble the intention or the cause, the benevolent politician is not Santa Claus. All goods distributed by government must first be created or produced by somebody. Whatever is given must first be taken. This is true for corporate subsidies and bank bailouts, just as it is true for transfer payments made to the very poorest members of society.

People by and large accept such a system because they believe they will be able to draw more in political advantage than they lose by way of political plunder. This mentality keeps the population playing the game, and like the casino, if enough people play the game, it is the political class and the politically connected that always win....