Fooled Again

| November 19, 2020

It hardly seems like 49 years since the song Won’t Get Fooled Again by The Who became a big hit. Every election the song comes to mind as I ponder how we do allow ourselves to be repeatedly fooled. We read newspaper articles and research reports purporting to tell us how to invest for the election. We listen to the radio and watch the television to find out what we should do. We are asked by our clients whether or not we should buy, hold, or sell various investments and market sectors. Some people sell everything as they await the outcome.

You may have noticed that we make no election predictions. We know that during every election we are all Charlie Browns who want to believe that Lucy will not yank the football the moment that we are about to kick it. She is so earnest and we are so trusting. The big problem is that we are never facing a binary choice. An election with two parties may seem like Charlie Brown’s dilemma, but the challenge with predictions is more than whether or not she holds the ball or yanks it away. The real question is whether or not a single party will win the White House and significant majorities in both the House and the Senate. Our system is deliberately designed this way. In The Federalist Number 101, James Madison argued for the benefits of a federal system over a pure democracy. He did so precisely because it prevented the unrestricted power of factions. According to Madison :

among the numerous advantages promised by a well constructed union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction. The friend of popular governments, never finds himself so much alarmed for their character and fate, as when he contemplates their propensity to this dangerous vice. He will not fail therefore to set a due value on any plan which, without violating the principles to which he is attached, provides the proper cure for it. The instability, injustice and confusion introduced into the public councils, have in truth been the mortal diseases under which popular governments have every where perished; as they continue to be the favorite and fruitful topics from which the adversaries to liberty derive their most specious declamations.

Even before we had social media and cable television, Madison knew that the nature of mankind never changes. He believed that through federalism “the influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular states, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other states.” When we bet our hard-earned savings on the outcome of an election, we are betting against Madison’s genius and 231 years of federalism. Madison knew better than The Who’s Pete Townshend that we do get fooled again, and helped create a system to protect us from ourselves


1.) Madison, James. “Federalist Papers: No. 10 - Full Text The Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection.” New York Packet, New York, November  23, 1787.