Corruption

Wanna' Reduce Corruption? Shrink the Government.

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While we're bashing McCain, it's worth noting that at the end of this article , his presidential exploratory committee says he will likely decline public funding, and the limits on spending and fundraising that come with it.

Despite all of McCain's heavy-handed moralizing about the corrupting influence of money in politics, it's hard to blame him. To be competitive, he'll likely need several times the amount of money he'd get from federal matching funds.

From the primaries to November, total campaign spending for the 2008 presidential election will probably approach $1 billion. Throw in congressional elections, and you're well over that mark.

I actually agree with McCain on some level: I find the ever-increasing amount of money in federal politics distressing. But not because I don't think people should be able to criticize politicians. I find it distressing because it means the presidency, the Congress, and the federal government have grown so powerful that private Americans are willing to collectively spend more than $1 billion of their own money to make sure their favored candidate and party control them. With a few exceptions, those contributors are spending all of that money because they're anticipating a good return.

When you see the inevitable stories about how much money will be spent on the 2008 election, the spin will likely be something along the lines of how we should be worried because all of that money is buying influence. A better question would be why so much influence is on the table in the first place.

NEXT: John McCain's Long War Against Honesty

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  1. Let’s call the effort to prevent the govenrment from having enough influence to effect rich people’s bottom lines “Plan A.”

    On the off chance that doesn’t work, what’s “Plan B?”

  2. It would be interesting to see how much total money is spent during an election cycle and what % of the total GNP that represents.

    Balko’s argument could possibly be turned around: we don’t spend serious money on elections because the government isn’t that powerful.

  3. Amen, brother, Amen.

  4. Joe plan B is to prevent the government from having enough influence to effect people’s lives.

  5. I am consistently amazed by the low amount of money that is spent on federal elections. The pathetic millions, tens of millions, or even hundreds of millions of dollars that represent a campaign’s costs pale in comparison to a budget that is pushing three trillion dollars.

    I think the reason that so little is spent on elections is simply this: What the hell do you spend it on?

    By the time an election comes around, everyone who wants to know who is running and what they stand for already knows. Everyone who does not want to know doesn’t. What can you possibly do with money that will change that?

  6. joe-

    That’s a very good question, and I appreciate the point you’re getting at.

    One good response is that if plan A fails then the implementation of plan B will inevitably be corrupted.

    And the good response to that is that while every system is prone to abuse, some are prone to lesser amounts of abuse while others are prone to greater amounts of abuse.

    I’m completely undecided on these matters right now, FWIW.

  7. joe, there is no Plan B, because nothing else will work:

    A state has a monopoly on the use of force. If you want wealth without creating it, you have to get it from someone through one of the following methods:

    1) Get them to give it to you as a gift
    2) Trade something for it
    3) Take it by force

    What is the most efficient way organization for doing number 3? The state.

    Let us contrast the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to the Winter Hill Mob. Now, the man running the Winter Hill Mob had to work harder for his loot than his brother who ran the state legistlature. Mr Bulger of the Winter Hill mob had to pay for his own bodyguards, faced the ever present risk of being kidnapped by his biggest competitors (the FBI, for example, lists him as one of its 10 most wanted), whereas his brother was called things like “The Honorable Mr Bulger” and had the most powerful gang in the area (The Massachusetts State Police) supplying him with protection.

    Those who do business with the Winter Hill mob faced the same threats of kidnapping and theft that the gang members face, whereas those who go to the Speaker of the House face no such threats.

    The Winter Hill mob could only offer so much in the way of favors: they only could extort money from a part of the Boston area. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts could loot far more money from a far larger area and could provide much more in the way of favors.

    Thus, if you want to go with option 3, the safest, most efficient bet is to use the state to confiscate wealth for you.

    This is my beef with minarchists: once an organization is tolerated to have a monopoly on the use of force, it inevitably is hijacked by those who either seek power for its own sake, or want to go to option 3.

  8. joe, I have to say that I don’t know what you are getting at.

    Plan A is the Constitution. Plan B is what the US has been doing for the last century or so. I guess I don’t really understand the question.

  9. This is my beef with minarchists: once an organization is tolerated to have a monopoly on the use of force, it inevitably is hijacked by those who either seek power for its own sake, or want to go to option 3.

    So your alternative is what, to break up the “monopoly of force” by allowing more groups to use it upon one another?

    That sounds something like what we’ve got in Iraq. No thanks.

  10. Time to kill the preidential campaign contribution checkoff. It appears only the LaRouchies will benefit in the future.

  11. tarran,
    You forgot to mention the fourth way of obtaining wealth: fraud – as in the passing of bad checks, funny money, etc. and the extension of credit based on thin air or other people’s wealth. 😉

  12. Yo, Radley, didn’t you used to work at the CATO institute? You should’ve paid more attention to Brad Smith, et. al. Then you wouldn’t be so distressed. It’s okay, we can catch you up now.

    I actually agree with McCain on some level: I find the ever-increasing amount of money in federal politics distressing. But not because I don’t think people should be able to criticize politicians. I find it distressing because it means the presidency, the Congress, and the federal government have grown so powerful that private Americans are willing to collectively spend more than $1 billion of their own money to make sure their favored candidate and party control them. With a few exceptions, those contributors are spending all of that money because they’re anticipating a good return.

    $1 billion per year equals, um, less than $4 per American. (There are more than 300 million of us.) Okay, okay, some of us are kids. Let’s say it’s six bucks per American.

    Not to make this bulletin board anything but family friendly, but….WHO THE FUCK CARES?

    Six bucks per American is actually too little. Voters are woefully under-informed. Maybe if there were more politics on TV-say, in the form of negative tv ads-we could have a more decent government. Eternal vigilance and all that.

    In brief, the right answer is to deregulate political communication. Perhaps we could amend the Constitution to say that Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech.

    On second thought, nah…it’ll never pass.

  13. That sounds something like what we’ve got in Iraq.

    Just to point out the obvious, Iraq has a democratic government.

    Bringing up Iraq is not an argument against anarchy: It is an argument against democracy.

  14. In brief, the right answer is to deregulate political communication. Perhaps we could amend the Constitution to say that Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech.

    On second thought, nah…it’ll never pass.

    That’s an extranious use of the privilage of Amending the Constitution. We must save this for things that really matter, like keeping them damn fags from gettin’ hitched.

  15. wanna shrink the government?

    start w/ the military industrial complex

    kick some of that pricey old school cold war bric-a-brac to the curb and reconcile w/ the reality for the 21st century

    not only would it save a lot of tax dollars, but it might free our leadership from the “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” paradigm trap

    whips out the DeTocqueville:

    It is in vain to summon a people who have been rendered so dependent on the central power to choose from time to time the representatives of that power; this rare and brief exercise of their free choice, however important it may be, will not prevent them from gradually losing the faculties of thinking, feeling, and acting for themselves, and thus gradually falling below the level of humanity.

    I add that they will soon become incapable of exercising the great and only privilege which remains to them. The democratic nations that have introduced freedom into their political constitution at the very time when they were augmenting the despotism of their administrative constitution have been led into strange paradoxes. To manage those minor affairs in which good sense is all that is wanted, the people are held to be unequal to the task; but when the government of the country is at stake, the people are invested with immense powers; they are alternately made the play things of their ruler, and his masters, more than kings and less than men. After having exhausted all the different modes of election without finding one to suit their purpose, they are still amazed and still bent on seeking further; as if the evil they notice did not originate in the constitution of the country far more than in that of the electoral body.
    http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/DETOC/ch4_06.htm

  16. Just to point out the obvious, Iraq has a democratic government.

    Bringing up Iraq is not an argument against anarchy: It is an argument against democracy.

    Technically, you’re correct but it appears to be a very weak government that people obviously cannot count on to ensure their safety and property rights.

    From what I understand about Iraq, there are at least some areas right now where it’s accurate to say that for all intents and purposes, government does not exist. The fighting seems to be about who will become the government in the future.

  17. Haywood,

    Is there anything that the militias are doing in Iraq that the Hussein government did not do?

    The manner of the violence (car bombs instead of poison gas) may be different, but the mass murders, gruesome tortue/executions, the robberies, the kidnapping are all there.

    If every government official in the Commonwealth of Vermont were to suddenly drop dead of a heart attack, I doubt that Vermont would suddenly devolve into a nightmare of roving gangs.

    Again, I suggest you read my links above.

  18. Technically, you’re correct but it appears to be a very weak government that people obviously cannot count on to ensure their safety and property rights.

    Advocates of anarchy believe that a society must have a certain maturity for anarchy to work. Advocates of democracy — except the stupid and/or the Bush Administration — believe the same.

    Whether a society needs a greater or different maturity to be an anarchy rather than a democracy is not clear to me. Suffice it to say that if your democracy breaks down into a tyranny of the majority or into civil war, your democracy didn’t work. It is not obvious that an anarchy would have fared any worse.

    If, on the other hand, your democracy has respectful elections and changes of power with the large majority of people accepting the governing authorities comfortably, then it is unlikely that if this society were an anarchy, that it would devolve into chaos.

  19. Haywood,

    Is there anything that the militias are doing in Iraq that the Hussein government did not do?

    The manner of the violence (car bombs instead of poison gas) may be different, but the mass murders, gruesome tortue/executions, the robberies, the kidnapping are all there.

    Just a whole lot worse.


    If every government official in the Commonwealth of Vermont were to suddenly drop dead of a heart attack, I doubt that Vermont would suddenly devolve into a nightmare of roving gangs.

    Maybe not suddenly, but pretty quickly. When you can’t depend on the government to protect you, joining a gang is the most logical choice.


    Again, I suggest you read my links above.

    I actually did read the “10 objections” one. Thought-provoking at times but the guy seem to be saying “if we got rid of government, people could form their own governments, we’d just call them something else”.

  20. Pretty much what I expected: in the absence of libertopia, you’ve got no useful policy prescriptions.

  21. joe, the fact that a reliable solution to political dysfunction cannot be proposed within that same political system is hardly noteworthy…

  22. MikeP,

    The unwillingness of radicals to accept half a loaf rather than no bread at all, no matter how distant the possibility of a whole loaf, isn’t terribly noteworthy either.

  23. wanna shrink the government?

    start w/ the military industrial complex

    Leaving aside that national security is one of the few legitimate functions of the state . . .

    And admitting that the military procurement process is no cleaner, in all likelihood, than most other government spending programs . . .

    Military spending on things other than payroll is a pretty small item in the big scheme of the federal government. There are lots of other areas where you could more profitably begin your crusade against big/dirty government.

    I might suggest the drug war.

  24. Just a whole lot worse.

    Er, not really. Compare the average death toll during the Hussein years (don’t forget to include the 1 million dead in the war with Iran) and the average death toll now, and I think you’ll find that, bad as it is now, Hussein was worse.

  25. For $1 billion, the real question should be “Damn, is this ALL I get?”

    Seriously, for that amount of money and for the office, we sure get a really crappy return on our investment in terms of who we elect. And that isn’t an anti-bush comment.

  26. The unwillingness of radicals to accept half a loaf rather than no bread at all, no matter how distant the possibility of a whole loaf, isn’t terribly noteworthy either.

    But the choices are not between half a loaf and no bread at all. The choices are between no bread at all and Congress drowning puppies. And I’m not so sure how much of a chance we have at the first one…

  27. I seem to recall reading either in the new Stossel book or in Freakonomics, that people are mostly putting the cart before the horse when it comes to money and elections. It is shown that popular candidates are more likely to have more money and win, not that those with more money are more likely to become popular and win.

    – Rick

  28. “…you’ve got no useful policy prescriptions.”-joe

    Neither do you. Furthermore, I figure your likely policy prescriptions would be worse than useless. Will ultimately do nothing to solve the actual problem, and will harm political freedom. When you cannot do what you want, it can be better to do nothing than to do anything.

  29. MJ further carries the point I made earlier. But in case it isn’t yet clear, here is a rough outline of how campaign finance reform has gone:

    1. Problem: Monied interests are paying for campaigns.
    2. Solution: Restrict First Amendment freedoms.
    3. Problem: Monied interests are still paying for campaigns.
    4. Solution: Further restrict First Amendment freedoms.
    5. Problem: Monied interests are still paying for campaigns.
    6. Solution: Further restrict First Amendment freedoms.

    After thirty-odd years of this, you kind of see where it is going.

    How about we just go back to step 1 and
    (a) note that it really isn’t that big of a problem and
    (b) propose something simple like unrestricted contributions with full disclosure.

  30. It might make a difference if the amount of public funds available came even close to keeping pace with the cost of campaigning for office.

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