This post was authored by Spencer Lane
It is the great rallying cry of our age: we need to get money out of politics! We need to return politics to a holier, purer state, one where our wise leaders can be free to decide how we should live our lives free from the corrupting, grimy influence of money. It’s a charge I love hearing from our politicians, who make such comments while being cut checks from their donors (as it’s always “the other guys” taking money from insidious sources).
Though this plea is sometimes heard from those on the right or even from libertarians, the slogan “Get money out of politics” is almost exclusively discussed by the modern American Left, those who see politics as man’s highest endeavor and money—or, perhaps more precisely, profit—as dirty and immoral. For those on the Left, the main cause of America’s political decay of late is that there is “too much” money in politics.
What those on the Left fail to realize is that money in politics is not a cause of America’s political sickness, it is a symptom.
The U.S. Federal Government spends more than $4 trillion every year; and while a lot of that is mandatory spending (e.g. Social Security, interest payments on the debt) which is not subject to Congressional whims, much of it is discretionary spending controlled by Congress. When there are hundreds of billions of dollars being handed out by those in Congress, of course there will be an influx of money into the political process to control who is in control of that money. Build it and they will come.
And that is in addition to Congress’s regulatory powers. When Congress can pick economic winners and losers by writing regulations favorable to one company and unfavorable to its competitors (or picks one industry over another, such as solar over coal), it again incentivizes people and corporations to pump money into the political process by which those who control the money and the regulatory machine are selected.
People and corporations are incentivized to lobby Congress and to donate to political campaigns because a (relatively) small donation can yield enormous rewards.
Yet the Left is apparently incapable of seeing this. They are incapable of seeing that the extraordinary amount of money in politics is a direct result of their favored policies (more government control of the economy, more spending, bigger government). And they do not see that if they really want money out of politics, they will have to get politics out of money.
This is yet another example of how the Left suffers from what might be termed “magic wand syndrome”—they think that the government is in possession of a magic wand and all that is required for something to happen is for the government to pass a law and *poof* it solves everything. They think that simply passing enough laws or regulations decreeing that there shall be no money in politics is all that is required to make it so. That intentions do not equal results seems never to occur to them.
No amount of laws or regulations limiting money in politics will ever remove money from politics. Heck, lobbying is banned in India – and they don’t exactly have a government known for their lack of corruption. All the same incentives—massive government spending and regulatory power—are still in place. People will still want to control or influence government; until those incentives are eliminated, they will find ways of doing so, rules or no rules.
The only way to reduce the amount of money in politics is to reduce the influence on politics on money (and the ability to earn it).
When I was at university, I had a long conversation with a friend of mine who was at the time a fairly typical Leftist-by-osmosis, but he was an open minded fellow. After more than an hour of him explaining why we need to get money out of politics and an hour of me explaining why all his proposed solutions were bad ideas, he asked me “So how would you get money out of politics?”
“Simple: make politics a worthless investment.”