Monday, August 18, 2008

Shocked, SHOCKED! that there's lobbying in this government


One of the most amusing bits of serialized nonsense in this election has been the extent of paroxysm and irrational hand wringing over the fact that political operatives working with campaigns or advising candidates are also, get this, former or current paid lobbyists. It is reminiscent of the scene is Casablanca when Captain Renault, famously played by Claude Rains, expresses his "shock" that there's gambling going on at Rick's, even though he's perfectly aware of it as a frequent patron of the place and an erstwhile friend of the proprietor. The duplicity and utter faux-surprise expressed whenever one of these lobbyists is "discovered" is indicative of at least two troubling things: 1) the amazing ability of people for self-deception or outright fraud and 2) the inability of alarming numbers of people to put together simple cause and effect.

To be shocked that people involved in modern politics are often lobbyists or become lobbyists is naive at best, shockingly duplicitous at worst. The government's power to control or heavily influence market outcomes and performance is immense and it would be foolish in the extreme for any person or corporation with hundreds of millions or billions of dollars at stake to not hire lobbyists to try to make sure the government, at the very least, did not harm their interests. It is also not surprising that some of these people attempt to gain favor or advantage while they're at it. Given anti-trust laws, just to name but one of many onerous ways the government interferes in the market, and the ability of the government to, literally at will, destroy entire companies, no responsible board of directors could go without having people on the ground to speak with, cajole, persuade, influence, etc. the relevant lawmakers who have the power to destroy them. Let's not forget what we're dealing with here. Lobbyists wield alleged economic "power." In other words, the most they can do, aside from almost certainly hopeless appeals to reason, is throw around money. Law makers wield the power, and it is the very real power that comes with the legal monopoly on violence, of the state. When the government "busts" a "monopoly," it literally confiscates assets and redistributes them. Good luck to the private citizen with even the greatest amount of economic "power" who would attempt to confiscate, that is steal, the property of his competitors or rivals.

Ironically, the people most up in arms about the presence and influence of lobbyists are not those who would attack the power and scope of the government. Instead, whether they are McCain or Obama supporters, these people are not only perfectly at ease with all the government currently does, but are advocating much more aggressive and all-encompassing action. The other possibility, aside from straightforward fraud or hypocrisy, is that these critics are simply incapable of putting two and two together. When the government takes on greater and greater powers and roles, people invariably begin to seek protection, favor, and advantage. Since the government, even as powerful as it is, cannot please all of these people simultaneously, it is hardly a shocker that those capable of doing so pay more and more lobbyists to cajole and jockey for favor. It is also scarcely remarkable that former office holders are the most sought after lobbyists. Not only do they know the system from the inside, but they often have existing relationships with their former colleagues. This is not a pretty system by any means nor is it in any way desirable, but to act like its logical and reasonable consequences are somehow aberrations that are out of place is ridiculous and disingenuous.

There is only one solution if one wants to dismantle this system of lobbying and that is to systematically roll back the scope and power of the government. If the government has no power to crush corporations that fall out of favor or are overwhelmed by competing lobbyists nor the ability to grant favors or special privileges, the cost-benefit of hiring and paying such people will quickly turn negative. And a free marketplace, where companies and individuals have to survive by their own merits and fail by their own deficiencies, thus not being articificially supported by the state in one of any number of ways, will be a just marketplace.

The only other course is a bleak one hardly anyone would knowingly or consciously advocate, but it's the course we're on if we don't make efforts to retreat from it. Societies with more and more powerful governments and less and less private control and autonomy in the marketplace eventually end up with fewer and fewer lobbyists. Why? The answer is quite simple. When you no longer have the ability to effect government decision making, nor the ability to dispose of your assets as you see fit, lobbying becomes the ultimate exercise in futility. All the economic "power" in Germany could not make one bit of difference to the Nazis once they gained absolute power over the economy. Private property remained in name, but hardly in fact. People produced what they were ordered to produce and they did so in accordance with government objectives, not the demands of the marketplace. In the Soviet Union, private property officially vanished and thus there was no one to lobby and nothing to lobby for. No matter which way we end up going, lobbying and lobbyists are going to eventually be a thing of the past, let us just hope that our futures don't make us look back upon either with longing.

1 comment:

Richard said...

You provided two troubling things as an explanation for the faux-surprise over the existence of lobbyists among candidates: 1) self-deception or fraud, and/or 2) an inability to grasp cause and effect.

I suggest a third option. Those concerned sense that their own agenda is competing with that of the lobbyists. In other words, we're seeing a turf war over political favors and power. When lobbyists set the agenda, the handwringers fear their agenda will take a back seat to that of the lobbyists. "What to do?" Try to sideline the lobbyists as a form of corruption.

In many respects the lobbyists are indeed a corruption, but the hand wringers don't give a darn about the moral rectitude of politicians listening to lobbyists, they want to be the first in line for political favors.

As for self-deception and failure to grasp cause and effect, I recall a button, often worn in Washington, during the Nixon or Carter administration? The button said,
"Reality is negotiable".