In a recent post, I wrote about the importance of “framing the conversation.” I cited a segment on Tucker Carlson’s show in which he debated a Bernie Sanders surrogate over the Green New Deal. In response to my post, a Grok reader added some remarks in the comments section.
Nice effort at muddying the waters. Big money from our oligarchs dominates this former democratic republic, which is now, as Jimmy Carter said, officially an oligarchy. As this excerpt from a larger piece from TomDispatch points out, using actual facts:
“…Even the Economist, a publication that can’t be charged with sympathy for left-wing ideas, warned recently of the threat economic inequality poses to the political agency of American citizens. The magazine cited studies showing that, despite everything you’ve heard about the power of small donations in recent political campaigns, 1% of the population actually provides a quarter of all the money spent on politics by individuals and 80% of what the two major political parties raise. Thanks to their wealth, a minuscule economic elite as well as big corporations now shape policies, notably on taxation and expenditure, to their advantage on an unprecedented scale. Polls show that an overwhelming majority of Americans support stricter laws to prevent wealth from hijacking politics and want the Citizens United ruling overturned. But then just how much does the voice of the majority matter? Judging from the many failed efforts to pass such laws, not much.”
The argument here is that big money has a corrupting influence (which it does) and that the answer is to ban big money from politics. But that won’t work and would have profoundly negative consequences that would far outweigh any benefits (see below).
More importantly, though, this ploy is used far too often to deflect the discussion away from an essential issue. In this case, it was used to deflect from the question of whether we should endow a tiny group of people with unprecedented power under the guise of a “Green New Deal.”
Defining which question we want to answer
If the question is purely about money in politics, then it is being vastly oversimplified. If the argument is that “more money = bad and less money = good,” then we should also hear the left complaining about George Soros money, Tom Steyer money, union money, Planned Parenthood money, and Hollywood money.
But we don’t.
So it’s not just a matter of saying that money in politics is a bad thing. It’s only a problem when you don’t agree with it.
In the case of the Tucker Carlson interview with Nomiki Konst, her argument was the simplistic “more money = bad and less money = good” argument. That works with people who are intellectually lazy, but it’s not logically sound.
If the question is whether money can be a corrupting influence on politics, then I can certainly find some common ground with the gentleman who left the comment. I too think that we have a problem with big-pharma, agribusiness, and yes, even the big banks influencing politics in a way that serves their own interests. A case can be made that this often harms the interests of the population as a whole.
We will probably disagree, however, on the remedy.
Leftists generally say that the answer is to place limits on how money can be deployed to influence politics. I, on the other hand, think that the answer is transparency, in combination with an educated, informed electorate. Sunshine is the best disinfectant.
Who Gets to Keep Their Influence?
There are several problems with the idea of merely placing restrictions on political spending. First, it is virtually impossible to put a lid on it. Yes, we could set some limits on the influence of money in politics, but influential people can (and often do) develop workarounds to campaign finance laws.
The Clinton Foundation and Bill Clinton’s speaking fees are great examples. So are the Biden family’s dealings in Ukraine. Even Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – who paints herself as a champion of getting big money out of politics – has recently found herself in hot water over what appears to be a scheme to work around the rules.
Second, restrictions on political spending would amplify the power of media and technology companies because it would suppress everyone else to some extent. One Google executive, for example, described the company’s efforts to influence the election as a “silent donation” to the Hilary Clinton campaign.
Generally speaking, the media has leaned heavily in favor of Obama and Clinton, and heavily against Trump. If we are opposed to banks influencing politics then shouldn’t we also be opposed to media companies influencing politics?
They are both, after all, big corporations with interests that might not always align with those of society at large. Do we start placing limits on what the media can say? Do we start micro-managing Twitter’s algorithms? Who will do that? And what will their agenda be? That’s a very dark and dangerous path and not one that we want to follow.
Third, the obsessive “stop big-money in politics” approach assumes a world view in which the electorate cannot be responsible for making informed decisions. While I agree that much of the electorate is not very well informed, I am still idealistic enough to think that we ought to aim for something better. A world in which people understand something about the issues and are willing to do at least a little bit of digging to discover the truth.
Lastly, there is that whole “freedom of speech” thing. The idea that we can make the world better by limiting speech is dangerous.
In the end, we should come back to the original topic of conversation: which in this case was the Green New Deal. Tucker Carlson’s point was that it doesn’t make sense to entrust anyone with that much power. In fact, the government already has far too much power, which is precisely why so many special interests are so keen to buy its influence.
Wouldn’t it be better to start constraining government?