Sunday, July 06, 2008

Money and Power

Robert Frank, in a New York Times piece (free, annoying registration may be required), spews the typical liberal pabulum regarding campaign finance reform. I won't comment on the entire piece, but I want to say something about the general theme: money corrupting politics.

Just because our representatives are elected by a majority of the population and sit in the seats of power in Washington, doesn’t make them omniscient. It is silly to believe that just because they are not influenced by money that their decisions would be more just and wise. Sure, the policies would be different, but we are still dealing with mere mortals. They would have to be experts in economics, science, law, history, medicine, technology, etc. to govern as they do now. Only if we scale down the size of government dramatically will this arrangement even be remotely possible. But, at that point there would be no need for campaign finance legislation because government would not have the heavy hand it does now nor would it have anything to sell.

But why do we need to limit contributions anyway? If we are assuming that these people we send to Washington are wise enough to determine the ‘right’ legislation if they were only free from the corrupting influence of money, why are they not wise enough now to just not be corrupted by the money in the first place? In other words, if they are so easily corrupted now, maybe they aren't fit govern at any time.

It could be said that we would want politicians to only get influence from the experts in the respective fields. But who are the experts? Do all experts agree? Who will be the arbiter if they don’t? Again, with a small government limited to a specific set of tasks, this could possibly work (I still have my doubts, however).

The other question we need to ask is how is it possible to prevent conflicts of interest? We are a nation of 300 million and we have different interests and wants. If government is reduced to a fraction of its current size this might be possible, but when government spends $3 trillion and has its tentacles in every aspect of our lives there are going to be conflicts of interest when it comes to how to spend that money and wield that power.

Lastly, I would like to comment on a specific quote in the article. After begrudgingly admitting that money can't be completely eliminated from the political process, Frank writes this: "The harsh reality is that free speech and good government are conflicting goals." When I first read that statement I had to stop and say "Wow!" Free speech is now a "goal" - not an inalienable right of the individual, mind you - a goal that can be negotiated like all other issues in government. Maybe this is why so many people want to buy influence. Maybe this is why so many people need to buy influence.

Let me use Mr. Frank's language to close: free speech and big government are conflicting goals. In fact, any individual right and big government are conflicting goals.

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