Friday, January 16, 2009

Cynicism and the electorate

David Sirota has done some really excellent reporting on the massive theft....errr... "bailout". Today he highlights one senator that criticized the bailout to get elected, then turned around and voted for it yesterday. Sirota opines:

When politicians campaign on populist themes, and then weeks later quite literally vote for the bills they attacked, it makes a mockery out of our democracy. It tells the American people that those representing us think representative democracy - with its campaigns, and promises to voters - is a laughingstock. And what we end up getting are policies that turn our economy into a laughingstock whereby those at the top guffaw their way to the bank, while the rest of us are the butt of the joke.

And so the reason to be disgusted with this kind of vote - whether it comes from Merkley, the Udall brothers or anyone else - has as much to do with the bailout being awful policy as it does with leaders defiling the very political process they are a part of. When that happens thousands of times over the course of many years (as it has in this last decade), it sows the kind of deep cynicism that erodes the public's foundational confidence in its own government.

The only question left is why do people keep voting? What recourse do you have now? As a voter, you thought you were getting someone who was going to vote the way he said he would- silly rabbit! Now you have to wait another 4 years before you can vote him out, and get someone else who is going to tell you appealing lies during the campaign, then ignore you once they are safely in office. Consider the following:
A central question that any voter who claims to wish to be informed must ask is: why is this man’s name on the ballot?

The standard answer is that he has a vision to fix the neighborhood, the city, or the country, and so he has nobly dedicated his life to public service, and needs your vote so that he can begin fixing the problem. He is a pragmatic idealist who knows that compromises must be made, but who can still make tangible improvements in your life.

Of course, this is all pure nonsense, as we can well see from the fact that things in a
democracy always get worse, not better. Standards of living decline, national debt explodes, household debt increases, educational achivements plummet, poverty rates increase, incarceration rates increase, unfunded liabilities skyrocket – and yet, election after election, the sheep run to the polls and feverishly scribble their hopes on to the ballots, certain that this time, everything will turn around! (For those reading this in the future, we are currently right in the middle of “Obama-mania.”)

The question remains – why is this man on the ballot?

We all know that it takes an enormous amount of money and influence to run for any kind of substantial office. The central question is, then: why do people give money to a candidate? I’m not talking about a national presidential campaign, where obviously people give a lot of money to the candidate in the hopes of giving him power to achieve some sort of shared goals and so on.

No, I mean: where does the money to get started even come from?

Why would pharmaceutical companies, aerospace companies, engineering companies,
manufacturing companies, farmers, and public-sector unions and so on give money and support to a candidate? Clearly, these groups are not handing out cash for purely idealistic reasons, since they are in the business of making money, at least for their members. Thus they must be giving money to potential candidates in return for political favors down the road – preferential treatment, tax breaks, tariff restrictions on competitors, government contracts etc.

In other words, any candidate that you get to vote for must have already been bought and paid for by others. Does this sound like an odd and cynical assertion? Perhaps – but it is very easy to figure out if a candidate has been bought and paid for.
Candidates will always talk in stirring tones about “sacrifice” and so on, but you surely must have noticed by now that no candidate ever talks specifically about the spending that he is going to cut. You never hear him say that he is going to balance the budget by cutting the spending of X, Y or Z. Everything is either couched in abstract terms, or specific promises to specific groups. (At the moment, the current fetish – in leftist circles – is to pretend that 47 million Americans can get “free” healthcare if the government lowers the tax breaks on a few billionaires.)

In other words, if you don’t see anyone else’s head on the chopping block, that is because it is your head on the chopping block. Of course, if the government really wanted to help the economy at the expense of some very rich people, it would simply annul the national debt – in effect, declare bankruptcy, and start all over again.
Why does it not do this? Why does it never even approach this topic? We have seen price controls on a variety of goods and services over the past few generations – why not simply place a moratorium on paying interest on the national debt, at least for the time being? Well, the simple answer is that the government simply cannot survive without a constant infusion of loans, largely from foreign lenders. This is a bit of a clue for you as to how important your vote really is, and how concerned your leaders are about your personal and particular issues – relative to, say, those of foreign lenders.

Ah, you might argue, but why would a pharmaceutical company, say, give money to a
potential candidate, since no deal can possibly be put down in writing, and that potential candidate might well take the money, and then just not take the calls from that pharmaceutical company when he or she gets into power?

Well, this is a distinct possibility, of course, but it has a relatively simple solution.
When a candidate is interested in taking a run at any reasonably high office, he goes around to various places and asks for money. When you ask someone for a few thousand dollars, naturally, his first question is going to be: “What are you going to do for me in return?”

Early on in any particular political race, there are quite a number of candidates. Anyone who wants to donate money to a political candidate in the hopes of gaining political favors down the road is only going to do so if he believes that the candidate will fulfill the unwritten obligation – the “anti-social contract,” if you like.
In politics, as in business, credibility is efficiency. Those who have built up reputations for keeping their promises end up being able to do business on a handshake, which keeps their costs down considerably. No new person entering a field will have the credibility or track record to be able to achieve this enviable efficiency, and so will have to earn it over the course of many years.

Thus we know for certain that when a company gives money to a political candidate, in the expectation of return favors in the future, that political candidate already has an excellent track record of doing just that. This kind of information will have been passed around certain communities – “Joe X is a man of his word!” – just as the reliability of a drug dealer and the quality of his product is passed around in certain other communities.

Thus we know that any candidate who receives significant funding from special interest groups is a man who has consistently proven his “integrity to corruptibility” in the past – for if he has no track record, or an inconsistent track record, no one will give him money to get started. (Just as a side note, this is a very interesting example of exactly why anarchism will work – we do not need the state to enforce contracts, since the state itself functions on implicit contracts that can never be legally enforced.)

In other words, whenever you see a name on the ballot, you can be completely certain that that name represents a man who has already been bought and paid for over the course of many years, and that those who have paid for him do not have, let us say, your best interests at heart.

But we can go one step further.

Since all the money that moves around in a political system must come from somewhere – the millions of dollars that are given to the sugar farmers must come from taxpayers – we can be sure that just about every benefit that special interest groups seek to gain comes at your expense. Pharmaceutical companies want an extension on their patents so they can charge you more money. Domestic steel companies want to increase barriers against imported steel so they can charge you more money. If a government union wants additional benefits, that will cost you. If the police want to expand the war on drugs, that will cost you security, safety and money. Whoever strives to benefit from the public purse has their hand groping towards your pocket.

Thus it is perfectly fair and reasonable to remind you that every name that you see on the ballot is diametrically opposed to your particular and personal interests, since they have been paid for by people who want to rob you blind.

Another aspect of “democricide” is the inevitable and constant escalation of public
spending necessary to achieve or maintain political power. Let us take the example of a mayor running for his second term. When he was running for his first term, sewage treatment workers donated $20,000 to his campaign, and in return he granted them a 10% raise. Now that he is running for his second term, and cannot give them another 10% raise, they have no reason to donate to his campaign. Thus he either has
to offer the sewage treatment workers some other benefit, or he has to create some new program or benefit which he can dangle in front of some new group, in order to secure their donations. This is why political candidates always announce new spending when they throw their hats into the ring – the new spending is the rather unsubtle promise of benefits which will be granted to those who donate to his campaign. A new stadium, a new convention center, a new bridge, a new arts program, new housing projects, highway expansions and so on – all of these inevitably and permanently raise the “high water mark” of governmental spending, and are an absolute requirement of running for office. Now, our aforementioned sewage treatment workers would of course prefer a permanent 10% raise rather than a one-time cash bonus. Thus they will always try to negotiate a permanent contract rather than continue to be at the mercy of the will and whim of their
political masters.

As this process continues, the proportion of non-discretionary spending in any political budget grows and grows. This is another reason why new spending initiatives must always be created in order to secure new donations. Money cannot be shifted from one area to another, because it has permanently been earmarked for a particular group in return for a one-time political contribution in the past.
If the mayor who is running for his second term decides to attempt to roll back the 10% raise, in order to free up money which he can then offer to someone else in return for campaign contributions, he would be committing political suicide. He would be breaking a freely-signed contract, sticking it to the working man, and provoking a very smelly strike – but for his own particular self-interest, the effects would be even worse.

Remember, people will donate to a political campaign based on an implicit contract of
future rewards from the public treasury. If a candidate attempts to “roll back” benefits that he has distributed previously in return for donations, not only will he incur the wrath of the existing special-interest group, but he will be revealed as a man who breaks his implicit and unenforceable “contracts.” Since this candidate can no longer be relied upon to give public money back to those who donate to his campaign, he will find that his campaign donations dry up almost immediately, and his political career comes to an abrupt end.

Of course, ex-politicians are highly prized as lobbyists as well, but if this mayor breaks faith with a donator, he will no longer be valuable in that capacity either, and will forego significant income in his post-political career.

Finally, any political candidate who has channeled public money to past donators faces the problem of blackmail. If he attempts to cross any of his prior supporters, mysterious leaks to the press will start to emerge, talking about the sleazy backroom deals that got him in power – thus also effectively ending his political career. All the other candidates will piously deride his cynical corruption, while of course making their own sleazy backroom deals in turn.
(It is highly instructive to note that two well-known fictional portrayals of the political campaign process – “The West Wing” and “The Wire” – repeatedly portray the candidate begging for money, but never once show why he receives it – the motives of his donors. The reason for this is simple: they wish to portray an idealistic politician, and so they cannot possibly reveal the reasons why people are giving him money. If the fictional story were to follow the inevitable “laws” of democracy, the storyline would be abruptly truncated, or the lead character would be revealed as far less sympathetic. The candidate would ask for money, and then the potential donor would indicate the favor he wanted in return. Then, the candidate would either refuse, thus ending his campaign for lack of funds – or he would
agree, thus ending any real sympathy we have for him. This basic truth – like so many in a statist society – can never be discussed, even on a show like “The Wire,” which has little problem revealing corruption everywhere else. A policeman can be shown breaking a child’s fingers, but the true nature of the political process must be forever hidden…)

Thus we can see that – at least at the level of economics – democracy is a sort of slowmotion suicide, in which you are told that it is the highest civic virtue to approve of those who want to rob you.

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