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In his column for FoxNews.com, Radley Balko argues that campaign finance reformers are right to be concerned about the money spent on elections. It's their solutions that are wrong.

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  1. Radley wrote: “Smart people coming out of college used to go to business school or directly into the corporate world. They used their smarts to create wealth. Today the preferred path is to go to law school, where they learn how to take wealth from other people.

    “Little wonder that over the last several years, lobbying is one of the fastest-growing industries in Washington.”

    Radley, Radley, Radley —

    I agree with the main point of your column, that the only effective way to reform influence-buying is to take away the influence that people are trying to buy.

    But . . . kids go to law school to “learn how to take wealth from other people”? Where did that Henry-Fordism come from? What about lawyers’ function of protecting individual rights? Helping people and enterprises not to pay more in taxes than the law requires? Keeping governments, criminals, and fraudsters from taking a client’s wealth?

    Also, I think I hardly need to point out the fallacy in arguing that lobbying has increased because more kids are going to law school. Lobbying would never increase without an increase in demand among customers/clients. As the rest of your piece wisely points out, the way to cut down that demand is to cut down what the government has to peddle.

    (Full disclosure — for those not already aware, I’m a lawyer in private practice.)

  2. I agree that lawyers are more than money redistributers, but I do think far too many educated Americans go into the law. It would be nice if they’d do something more useful like engineering. Oh, well.

  3. As to “protecting individual rights” and “keeping governments, criminals, and fraudsters from taking a client’s wealth”, maybe people haven’t been impressed with the overall performance of lawyers in those functions as opposed to enabling the government, JP.

  4. What I would really be interested in reading is an article that actually proposes solutions as to the question of how to shrink the federal government.

    Yelling “diminish the power of the gov’t” is all good and well, but how do you accomplish that? Are Congress-critters expected to write laws to give themselves less power?

    We all agree that the government has too much power. But we also agree that the government isn’t going to take power away from itself. So what now? How do you deal with the problem of the amount of money in politics assuming the amount of power isn’t going to get any less (and probably grow) ?

  5. Eric — You may be right about people’s opinions, but I expect better from Radley.

  6. Also, I think I hardly need to point out the fallacy in arguing that lobbying has increased because more kids are going to law school. Lobbying would never increase without an increase in demand among customers/clients. As the rest of your piece wisely points out, the way to cut down that demand is to cut down what the government has to peddle.

    So, did you hear the one about the first lobbyist who came to Washington and nearly starved to death until another one arrived and then they both got rich?

  7. I agree that lawyers are more than money redistributers, but I do think far too many educated Americans go into the law. It would be nice if they’d do something more useful like engineering. Oh, well.

    One can do both!

    The only reason I practice law and not engineering is that I am not competing with a global market (eg, billions of Chinese and Indians) on the law side.

    There used to be some North American born engineers at my current employer. I can remember them and I miss them. They were so well-rounded, and had a certain open-ness about them that was socially nice. It feels kind of racist to say that, but it is true.

  8. But . . . kids go to law school to “learn how to take wealth from other people”?

    Oddly, for every lawyer trying to stick his mitts into someone else’s pocket, there’s another lawyer trying to keep him from doing so. Funny, innit?

  9. You may be right about people’s opinions

    Sniff all you want; it’s kind of obvious which direction the law profession generally pushes us.

  10. Dave W.,

    North Americans? They were probably Canadians. Or, worse yet, Republic of Vermontians.

  11. ProL:

    NOT THEM!!!! ANYTHING BUT THEM!!!!

    [shreaks! runs off howling hysterically while eating library paste]

  12. In fact, I don’t believe in the whole engineers from the United States myth. It’s too fantastic.

    My dad’s an engineer, but he’s from Tennessee.

  13. Chicago Tom has it right. I was thinking “If I were dictator for a day, what law would I pass to limit the power of the government for all the following days?” My answer came out looking a lot like the 10th amendment. But we’ve already pulled the “commerce clause” thread so far that there’s no sweater left. So what, exactly, could one do (short of becoming a SCOTUS judge and bitch-slapping precedent) to fix the situation?

  14. The law profession responds to market forces just like any other service industry. If people want more law (or acupuncture, oil changes, psychotherapy, money management, house cleaning), other people will come forward to provide it. Limiting the number of lawyers won’t limit the size of government any more than exiling Jews reduced the amount of “usury” in medieval Europe.

  15. There are a lot of US-born and US-raised engineers in the US. I, for example, am one of them. There are NOT, however, many US-born engineers with advanced engineering degrees. Engineers with social skills (and yes, I realize I’m generalizing, but I’m right more often than I’m not) often do just as well (or better) by becoming generalists and/or managers while leaving the heavy-duty engineering to the very-happy-to-specialize foreign-born crowd.

  16. “There are a lot of US-born and US-raised engineers in the US”

    Agreed. I know one who is also a journalist and married to a nice Jewish girl from New York. What’s his name again…. He served in the French army in the first gulf war…

    Jean something….

    hmmmmmmm.

    [keed keed]

  17. In fact, I don’t believe in the whole engineers from the United States myth.

    You can still find them in the government contracting sector. Maybe a reason to avoid military cuts?

  18. I think the point of continuously trying to convince people that powerful government is bad, is that if people realize the problems associated with powerful government, then they can start electing people that actually do want to reduce the power of the government. It is clear that most people are not currently interested in doing so, and maybe they never will be, but just because there is a clear correlation between electability and corruption in American politics doesn’t mean that making an effort to solve that problem is meaningless.

  19. Engineers with social skills…often do just as well (or better) by becoming generalists

    Well-well look. I already told you: I deal with the god damn customers so the engineers don’t have to. I have people skills; I am good at dealing with people. Can’t you understand that? What the hell is wrong with you people?

  20. Useless! He’s gone.

  21. I think the point of continuously trying to convince people that powerful government is bad, is that if people realize the problems associated with powerful government, then they can start electing people that actually do want to reduce the power of the government.

    And then when the people you elect to reduce the size of government decide that hey…maybe now that they have power, reducing the the size of gov’t isn’t so great.

    Look at the 1994 Congressional “revolution”. How many of those congress-people elected had pledged things like term limits and smaller government? How many have actually stepped down when their promised term limits were up?? How many actually worked to shrink the government?

    Funny how, for most of them, when their term limits came up, they realized that they couldn’t step down…there was still lots more work to do and that they would be more effective by staying in office.

  22. Constitutional amendment(s), the rise of a party committed specifically to the severe restriction of government power, and/or mass revolt against the status quo. Those are the options, realistically.

  23. Look at the 1994 Congressional “revolution”. How many of those congress-people elected had pledged things like term limits and smaller government? How many have actually stepped down when their promised term limits were up?? How many actually worked to shrink the government?

    I absolutely was not referring to Republicans when I made my statement. The whole essense of my position is that Americans need to start electing people who they currently view as “unelectable” if they want to eliminate government corruption. The whole reason they are unelectable is that they tell you what they think and clearly have principles. I don’t really see how that is a valid description of the republican congress in 1994. My point is that there exist people who would actually work to reduce government power if they were elected to office.

  24. The law profession responds to market forces just like any other service industry. If people want more law

    So, you’re no longer saying lawyers are resisting the growth of government, but saying they’re helping that growth because people pay them to?

    Duh.

    Limiting the number of lawyers

    Who here suggested that? Are you actually arguing with anyone in this thread or the post it’s linked to, or just complaining because people don’t love lawyers?

  25. The whole reason they are unelectable is that they tell you what they think and clearly have principles.

    My point is that there exist people who would actually work to reduce government power if they were elected to office.

    The problem is that, a lot of them throw their principles away once they realize that principle isn’t all that beneficial to them now that they are in power.

    And how do you separate the honest from the bullshitters? If I remember correctly, in 1994 many of those who were elected told you what they thought and stood on principle.

    I tend to agree with the sentiment that most (not all) people who are drawn to politics aren’t drawn by a sense of altruism or a desire to truly make things better for everyone. Instead they are drawn to the power and the benefits of that power.

    Anyone who wants the job of politician/lawmaker is inherently suspect, to me.

    Trying to limit gov’t power is a great idea, but realistically we should start from the position that gov’t power can’t truly be reigned in, and go from there. How can we minimize the corrupting influences or at the very least level the playing field so that no one group(s) gets to have much more influence than others.

  26. I don’t love lawyers. Our symbiotic relationship with society has gradually become more parasitic. Hope we don’t kill the host. . . .

    Of course, I’m not that kind of lawyer, so I lack the latent guilt inherent in the profession 🙂

  27. Erik,

    Initially I was responding to arguments in Radley’s column that seemed to be the same kind of cheap-Populist arguments one hears against advertising pros, bankers, salesmen, stock brokers, etc. — they’re bad because they don’t “create” anything; all they do is suck value out of the creative efforts of others; etc.

    Then I was responding to comments by you (and more humorously by DAR and RCD) seemingly implying that lawyers are able to generate demand for their services simply by existing. Looking back at your 1:19 comment, I now see that you must have meant, not that the legal profession pushes us to have more government, but that it pushes us to dislike lawyers.

    I’m pretty much resigned to not being loved as a lawyer. What I try to counteract are misunderstandings of what lawyers do and why they exist.

    I’m not a litigator, BTW, but I do know some who are quite lovable.

  28. What I love about this issue is the Congressional “all those nasty lobbyists are trying to bribe our virtuous members” paradigm.

  29. I’m pretty much resigned to not being loved as a lawyer.

    I can’t imagine anyone going to law school to enhance their popularity.

    Personally, I’m a lawyer because it pays well.

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