Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Partisanship and Bounty

Everyone seems to want something from the Government. Corn growers want subsidies on ethanol, drivers want increased spending on roads, the fearful favor dropping bombs on bogeymen.

All the meanwhile, a movement has been building to make it harder for money to buy a candidate - prohibiting "soft" money, outlawing campaign contributions of some sorts by some parties, etc. Since most of this focuses on the money aspect, you can be sure that this is an effort to silence that demographic - and like it or not, rich people get to vote too. You're not going to change the fact that candidates are bought - just changing the currency with which they're traded.

In this case, there seems to be a desire to have the candidates bought and sold with votes - which, on the face, is a smashing notion - that candidates should represent their voting constituency. But the problem with this is that it does nothing to stop the redistribution of money, it just changes some of the names. The corn lobby still gets what it wants.

Let me suggest that the problem is not that candidates are bought and sold, it's that they have the power that makes that profitable. In short, politicians would not be commodifiable in this sense if they couldn't provide any consistent return on investment.

I'm clicking my heels as I write - there's no place like home! So let's all join hands, sing kumbayah, and wish away the power of government to take from Peter and give to Paul. I'm not so nieve as to believe it's going to happen, but I'm sure I won't stop getting pissed off until that day.

We don't just need a new representative in office to change things, we need, ultimately, a new constitution, and a national consensus that has, to my knowledge, never existed. Here's the good news: it can be built, and the political system that we third-way voters chafe under can be used against it. Since most people don't care enough to vote, it takes a FAR smaller consensus than would be necessary under a parliamentary system.

Ain't I all full o'sunshine today?


ryan said...

Since so little money appears to be spent on rent-seeking, at least relative to government spending, doesn't this suggest that it's possible to curb the buying of votes?

Tim said...

In theory, it's probably possible for one reason or another. But practically speaking, I think as long as Congress has power to give people what they want at an affordable rate, it'll happen. Whether people are merely playing on their personal relationships with a congressman or outright paying him off to do what they want, there's room for more than one form of corruption, and it's all nearly impossible to stop.

Frankly, I don't think we should continue to make the efforts to stop it - rather, as I suggest above, reduce the ability of government to offer the returns that people are seeking in the first place. Barring experimental data to the contrary, alcohol without the effects of drinking doesn't interest many people more than, say, a Pepsi does.

ryan said...

What? If you could find me a beer that wasn't alcoholic but did actually taste like a real, decent, full-bodied, not-too-hoppy, God-fearing German beer (including the part of the flavor that in such a beer would normally come from the alcohol), I'd totally drink it. Wouldn't be as much fun as said German lager, of course, but if this non-alcoholic drink of the gods were the price of a Pepsi instead of a beer, I can't imagine why I would drink it.

Huh, that's completely off topic, isn't it? Okay, anyway, I'm just saying, people aren't spending a billion dollars to get billion dollar gov't contracts, nor is everyone and his mother trying to become friends with the congressman. The simple game theory models of rent-seeking suggest that rent seeking should consume, at minimum, half the rents. It doesn't matter if the rent-seekers compete with money or friendship or whatever -- somehow, resources have to be spent, and that should continue until some significant fraction of the money and influence up for grabs has been consumed. So where is this competition? I have no idea why there's so little, but there really doesn't seem to be much, relatively speaking. I can't offer any theoretical explanation for why this is the case, but I can't for the life of me see how all possible sources of corruption add up to a couple trillion dollars of value.

Tim said...

OK, my point with the booze remark was if you take the bite out of government, it's not going to be used to extract wealth and redistribute it. If a gun doesn't shoot, you're not going to go duck-hunting with it.

But more broadly.

OK, compared to the rewards, yes, absolutely there's little investment in rent-seeking, but the little goes a long way. I doubt we'd be suffering with the steel tarriffs we have now if the steel lobby hadn't invested in its own best interests.

And why is there little competition? Well, I'm not sure there is, and I can't answer until you can put votes and dollars on a scale of value, so we can make transparent in theory the signalling mechanisms used by politicians to take action.

Basically, while one strategy to get your will worked is to try to buy a candidate (with whatever means - money, votes, free bubblegum), another strategy is simply to be big, powerful, rich, or influential. In that case, it's likely that you'll be pandered to by the politicians without having to spend a dime. Politicians want to buy your vote just as much as some people would like to buy the policies they can offer them.