This week (June, 2013) I was going to announce I was running for Congress. I was taking it very seriously and for the past three months this was the week I was planning on announcing.

I had hired people to run the campaign. I had gotten great advice. I had studied the current incumbent in my district. I had spoken to party officials in BOTH parties who were receptive. I had spoken to local reporters who were going to cover it.

I was even going through the process of being endorsed by a major national politician. I learned a lot. What I learned convinced me I couldn’t run and still be true to my values.

James Altucher for congress

The best way to have a difference in the world is to just do what I do now. The best way to clean a dark room is to open the window and let the light in. That’s what I like to do.

But within three seconds of thinking about running for Congress I learned an enormous amount about the bullshit in the system. Below I tell the story of almost instantly being thrown into the machine where I would have to give up my principles.

Some of what I learned is below. Some I just have to keep to myself for now.

Tactical Things I Learned: 

A)  For a mid-term Congressional primary, you will win if you only campaign in nursing homes. Every primary campaign is won by senior citizens as the swing votes. So if you just campaign in nursing homes and make sure that vans are available to get them to vote, then you win. People think that you have to win over young people but in primaries it’s the reverse.

B) People remember the names of who they donate to. “The trick is,” said one experienced marketerr, “is to raise just a dollar from everyone.” The second best thing, he said, “is to give a dollar to everyone”.

C) I was going to try something creative. It’s easy to get a list of likely voters in your district. I was simply going to buy the vanity searches of all of those people on Google. Since most people search their name, if I blanket their screen (and their Facebook pages) with my name, then they would remember it at voting time. “What we do,” said my favorite marketer (author of the one  million in sales book, “How to Run  a Successful Hot Dog Cart”, Perry Belcher), “is to make the ads really ugly so nobody clicks. So you get the effect you want but it  costs you no money”. I bet nobody has thought of this before for a campaign.

D) I felt I could win. The incumbent was weak and has already signed up to raise money from PACs that cater to weak incumbents. I also studied his voting record and found weak holes. The bottom line is that a large percentage of the people who have voted for him have lost their jobs and now have worse healthcare. Nor does he actually live in the district. I’ve lived here for most of 11 years.

E) Even though I’m pretty apolitical, I felt very strongly about my particular issues. “But,” said another marketing expert, “if you actually say any of this stuff nobody will take your campaign seriously. So you have to rewrite it completely.”

I have a 10,000 word platform. I sent it to him. “yeah,” he said, “nobody is going to take you seriously and you won’t be able to win.” I agree with him.

My feeling is, if I can’t run on what I believe in then what’s the point? I had a lot of issues (10,000 words was just the start. I could’ve written a 50,000 word platform) but here are some of my ideas.

Some of my Issues:

– Congressmen should NOT be allowed to vote in Washington DC. The only reason they vote there is because there were no phone lines or Internet in 1792. But now Congressmen could stay in their district, help people out, and still engage in debates and learn the issues and vote from home. The benefits:

1. stay closer to constituents and what they want.

2. Most important: it would destroy the hundred billion dollar lobbying/bribery industry. Congressmen basically vote what industry lobbyists want them to vote. Lobbyists have an easy job. All of the Congressmen are located in one small city. It’s easy to wine and dine them ten times a day. If the Congressmen were spread out over the entire country by mandate, then there would be no way to lobby them. End of lobbying industry. More true democracy for voters. In fact, it might even mean the end of Congress, since voters could vote directly and we can have a true democracy instead of a pretend one.

– No more “military actions”. In the past four years we’ve had military actions in at least six different countries and conducted over 20,000 airstrikes, killing many innocent civilians . I’m not sure what good they do. The last LEGALLY declared war was in 1941. Most wars in history have  had an economic cause. If we got creative on the economics, we wouldn’t need to send over young 18 year old boys and girls to die pointless deaths that protect nobody.

18 year olds have their senior prom and then they die. Not to mention our lack of nation-building upon completion of a military action. I support the charity “Women for Women International” which helps women whose lives and families have been torn apart by military actions in Iraq, Afghanistan, all over Africa, etc. I also support successful technologies that help diagnose returning veterans with post-traumatic stress syndrome as to what medication will most effectively cure their issues. These 18 year old kids are having their lives destroyed.

When I ask my 40 year old friends who disagree with me on this issue if they would volunteer for the military in order to relieve an 18 year old, nobody says “I’ll do it”.

– Economics stops wars. I  can give 100 examples. But in Rwanda we sent over billions in military aid. None of it worked to prevent genocide in the 90s. Do you know what worked? The price of coffee is perfectly correlated to the genocidal violence in Rwanda. When Starbucks bought coffee from Rwanda: no more genocide (this is overly simplified but actually true). The entire Middle East situation is going to change simply because we have more oil in North Dakota and the Mississippi Lime than the entire Middle East. Let’s let that play out in environmentally safe ways now that the technology is finally here and getting better.

– Senior citizens are being systematically starved and killed by the government. Social security rises with core inflation, which excludes food and energy increases. Well, food and energy costs have been increasing faster than inflation for many years. So senior citizens get less money each year to cater to their basic needs. And they are living longer.

My calculations are they have about ten years before a senior citizen with no other means of support will starve to death. Solution: we have to live up to our promise to people over 65. But anyone younger than 55 should give up their expectations of Social Security (since it won’t help them live anyway). People should keep working. There’s really no other choice. The retirement age where people get Social Security was set at 65 in a year when the average person died at age 61. Now it’s 78. So the world has changed.

– Every government asset (State and Federal) should be sold. Why do states own horrible universities, for instance, that rob our children of their youth and put them into horrible debt, and then the Federal government backs that debt. Sell the universities.

Sell the highways. Sell the bridges (they are all about to fall apart since the average lifespan of a bridge is about 50 years old and most bridges were built in the 1930s and 40s.)  Sell the poorly run post office. Etc.

(this bridge collapsed in Oregon three weeks ago)

I’m not suggesting this because the government is horrible at running things. But, yeah, given our debt, I guess they are. So let’s run a surplus by simply selling everything, hiring less government employees (who will move over into private industry that buys the assets), and making enough money to pay down debt before inflation starts paying down our debt. There’s not really any other solution since government is incapable of reducing budgets (we only run surpluses when business is booming). And if companies that buy these assets want to make a profit they won’t let them collapse like the bridge above.

A great example of an organization that should be sold off is NASA. A $100 billion budget couldn’t get a a commercial vehicle into space but a $10 million X Prize  was able to. There’s more details here but there is a lot to be learned  from the success of incentives funded by private industry.

– Sales tax. No income tax. Let’s face it: rich people don’t pay income taxes. They never have and they never will. Rich people make money on capital gains which has lower taxes and more loopholes. It’s people who are forced to go to a nine to five job (lower class, middle class, upper middle class) that get screwed on income taxes.

People say (because they’ve been trained by their masters) that “if you replace an income tax with a sales tax” then it becomes a regressive tax against the poor. This is horseshit. The state-sponsored lottery is a tax against the poor.

A sales tax punishes people who consume. The last I saw, rich people consume a lot more than poor people and pay no taxes while they do it. You want to keep an income tax  for people making over $200,000 (an arbitrary number that should be modified by state), then fine. But lets get rid of the worst tax and replace it with the one tax that everyone except the fabulously wealthy would be willing to pay. And since the government will own less and operate more efficiently, there will be less need for exorbitant tax revenues to fund military actions and military aid that produces zero results.

– No FDA. The FDA approves the drugs you take to live if you have diseases like cancer, etc. It takes almost $2 billion to get a drug past the FDA AFTER the R&D costs that made the drug. And yet, still these  drugs don’t work, they cause deaths, and many good drugs are rejected by the FDA for nonsense reasons.

I can give examples but suffice to say I’ve seen this 100 times over. And then the problem is: the drugs have to price out of this world ($20,000 a month to take many life-saving cancer drugs) because of the high costs of getting through the FDA. Hence also the enormous lobbying from the pharma industry to make back the costs.

At the very least, test for safety, and then pass the drugs. Then the market will decide instead of the lobbyists and well-paid pharma salesmen deciding. Will it result in more deaths from bad drugs? No more than exists now. Will it result in better healthcare? Yes, because drugs will be cheaper and we’ll learn a lot more quickly which are the bad ones and which are the good ones. Will the government save money? Yes, because the war on drugs will end. Will it result in more jobs? Yes, because more companies will be able to start actively selling drugs instead of competing with bigger and better capitalized pharma companies.

(this drug costs $409,000 a year to take for some blood disease)

These are just a few of the issues. There are many more. I had issues that nobody would like (stop backing housing mortgages. Stop backing student loans.) This would rein in the cost of houses.  This would rein in the cost of tuitions if colleges could no longer rely on the government to pay their professors/researches salaries. The net result would be that the best scientists would work in private industry instead and young people would have less debt to deal with when starting their career.

I would also do a blanket forgiveness of student debt – paid for, in part, by states selling off all universities to private industry). I would also change the capital requirements for banks to lend out money, force them to reveal their financial ratings (little known secret: it’s actually a Federal felony for a bank employee to actually tell you if it’s on the verge of going out of business even if you are about to put all of your money there), and allow banks to refinance your underwater mortgages with current interest rates. And so on.

So why didn’t I run? 

Part I – CRAZY

Everyone thought I was crazy. And they were right. A marketing expert read my platform and said, “nobody is going to take you seriously and you’d have to run as an independent and then you would lose.”

He was totally right. And why run if I had no chance to win. “A vanity play,” he called it. Just a waste of money.


I began discussions with a major politician who was thinking of endorsing me. He passed me off to a low campaign official. This guy wrote to me and said, “We can’t back losers. You have to do two things:

1) show us the mathematical path to victory

2) prove that you can raise the money. ”

And then he said, ominously, “and then there’s other concerns.”

#2 was no problem but #1 I didn’t know even what that meant. I had a unique strategy that I felt could win.

“Hire our pollster.”

So I started talking to the pollster. World famous successful pollster. I didn’t know what he was going to do. Nobody knows who I am in my district. Yet. The incumbent didn’t even live in the district when he started running here (and still doesn’t).

The pollster was very nice and we spoke many times. I learned a lot talking to him. But he said, “we just need to figure out what your district thinks so you can construct your message in such a way that they vote for you.”

I didn’t understand. How about I construct my message based on what I think and then they can decide if they like my issues and THEN vote for me?

There were other issues. My initial contact even said, “there are other factors involved.” I found out the other factor. They wanted to know if I would then support a certain candidate for President.

I suddenly felt like I was no longer choosing myself. I was getting anxious about other people choosing/endorsing me and I had to jump through weird hoops I didn’t agree with to make it happen.

I don’t like that in any part of my life. That’s what my entire book is about. 

So I was in politics for basically three seconds and suddenly I was being thrown into a bullshit machine.


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  • Harold Davis

    Hi James, I am running as a write-in candidate for U.S. congress 3rd. district Missouri. I am going with your ORIGINAL plan only without the expenses , consultants, backers etc.and having to argue with people about it before I even get started. The main reason is if I am elected I will not be obligated to anyone or group. That’s how it starts as you’ve found out. If people don’t vote for me or people like me,
    who want to work and fix things then we’ll have what we have now or worse. Their choice. Harold Davis

    • eric

      Harold, I came across this post in much the same way as yourself. I’m contemplating an independent run that would be “unfinanced”. I wouldn’t take a dime from anyone including myself. A tough idea to get off the ground but I agree with your concept that if I owe no one I can be true to the constituents.

  • JSebastian

    They just don’t let them on any committees that conspire on how to steal the property or liberty of your fellow citizens. So you are punished by not being allowed to become evil.

  • JSebastian

    I would have liked to see you lead this off with more of an indictment of the status quo – you hinted at it in your comment about direct democracy, but that doesn’t solve the “mob rule” problem. A “consensual democracy” would be the only morally acceptable kind. Forcing people into political associations is just wrong and cannot be justified. Politics is ugly business because its based on force and fear. Humankind isn’t ever going to have peace until we change the essential nature of government, from compulsory to voluntary.

  • JSebastian

    That is another platform issue he should have included in this essay, the elimination of political parties. They are an impediment to legitimate democracy.

    • joelferguson

      Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Hamilton would agree with you.

  • JSebastian

    How can something be done without profit? Why would anyone do anything they aren’t compensated for? You commies are ridiculous. Stop trying to enslave your fellow man.

  • DelmarJackson

    Everyone I know, on the left or the right, after they go to Washington, they become weasels. I have long thought the same as you, why in the 21st century are we sending people to Washington to vote for us, why can’t we use the internet to vote for ourselves. This is an idea whose time has come. It needs to be started in a small community first to get the ball rolling.
    And if you want to privatize everything, then fine, but we need an immigration moratorium. Why raise money selling everything to the Chinese while we have open borders so the globalist can continue to hire dirt cheap labor and apss on all the social, economic and environmental costs to our communities while dispossessing the native born citizens.

  • Jason Neil

    Very nice read. I am thinking of running for Congress myself.

  • Wow. This post really resonates with me. The government won’t change- I’m in the US Navy and see how much waste we produce- all for nothing. Nothing actually changes. People see surface issues and become exceptionally reactive. They say, “Oh, problem? OK. Let’s see what BS paperwork we can put in place so either A. We aren’t held accountable or B. it makes it too hard to do the right thing.”
    I feel this is the general attitude in congress, too.

  • DPsombra

    This is the most retarded thing I’ve ever read. You need gov to order many levers of society necessary to facilitate efficient domestic trade. Gov can correct for society’s ills, such as inequalities inherit in laissez-faire economics. You need governments to talk to other governments abroad and manage foreign policy. Von Mises was a supply-side, trick-down-economics hack job. Everything has its own place: NGOs/non-profits do philanthropic stuff, businesses created wealth, and gov organize society and set necessary laws for how we trade and treat each other. Saying we should have no government is not only extremely retarded, it’s completely ahistorical. You need to read more books.