February 08, 2010

Money for nothing

In light of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision and the kerfuffle over Justice Alito's understandable reaction to being wrongly taken to task because of it (acts of presidential lèse majesté now apparently extend to the reading of lips), here is my campaign finance rule:

Anybody can give any amount of money to anybody, as long as the donors (and secondary contributors) and recipients disclose on a timely basis (in spreadsheet form on an accessible website) who is giving what to whom. Jail for those who don't.

That's it. If a politician wants to risk his reputation taking a big chunk of change from the Saudis, the voters will decide. If the auto companies want to give a big chunk of change to John Dingell (or run ads on his behalf) and the voters in Michigan's 15th district don't mind, that's their business.

And if Chevron and Bank of America and Pacific Life want to give a big chunk of change to the PBS Newshour to burnish their public image with the liberal intelligentsia, they can do that too. Ditto all those feel-good corporate infomercials that pay for the Sunday morning news shows.

Oh, wait, they already do that.

I guess the influence buying at some corporations (starting with the New York Times Company and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting) is more "equal" than others. So let's can the "heartfelt concern" that's an excuse to condescend toward anyone who doesn't share our aesthetic or political tastes.

The religious right can stop trying to "save" the proles from porn and video games. And the statist left can stop trying to "save" the proles from McDonalds and Walmart. And political ads. Speech is speech. It mostly goes in one ear and out the other. We can all quit pretending to be so terrified by it.

Anyway, reading National Geographic as a kid convinced me it's the pretentious rich who are the suckers for slick ads and status symbols and the latest New Age secular religion.

This being Super Bowl Monday, when's the last time an ad convinced you--from zero to conviction--of anything? Rather it tipped you toward a decision you were prepared to make or reinforced an opinion you already held. Used-car salesmen of all stripes are the ones to watch out for.

Speaking of which, buying the votes of crooked politicians with millions in bribes is far kinder to the public purse than crooked politicians buying the votes of their constituents with billions in pork. There's only so much corruption to go around. Let's spend wisely and outsource.

Because the only serious way to fix the problem at the federal level would be to triple the number of congressional seats, increase congressional terms to four years, and limit the occupancy of a single seat (including judgships) to twenty-four consecutive years. And that's never going to happen.



# posted by Anonymous Dan

I share your sentiment. Arnold Kling recently posted his ideas for fantasy federalism here: http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2010/02/fantasy_federal.html

I have a simpler solution more in line with your proposal. (1) Double the number of Representatives (2) Allow democratic districting (ie let people of a certain zip code decide the district to which they wish to belong) and (3) Apply the Virginian gubernatorial rule that prevents a politician from seeking reelection while holding office.

In truth the only fix to what ails the country is to dramatically weaken the central government. Just consider that 200 years ago Madison vetoed a bill to federally fund the building of roads and canals because he believed it was not constitutional!
2/08/2010 11:59 AM

# posted by Blogger Joe
One other fix:

Get rid of the 17th amendment and require state legislatures to appoint senators. Wala, no more senate campaigns to worry about (and states finally have they say that was intended.)

I'd also increase the number of representatives to one for every 100,000 citizens. Seriously.

And get rid of pensions for elected officials.

I also concur with Dan that the ultimate problem is the amount of power the government holds. With $3 trillion budget the payoff for corruption is just way to high (and small time corruption gets lost in the shuffle.)

Oddly, simplifying the tax code would also neuter a lot of power--have a graduated tax from 5% to 20% for all income, including benefits and capital gains, with no deductions whatsoever.
2/08/2010 12:47 PM

# posted by Blogger Joe
One thing that has baffled me in the arguments against the supreme court decision is why liberals are so deathly afraid of free speech. I believe it's because they really think that advertising is highly effective. And they believe that because it's their only explanation of why everyone doesn't share their elitist tastes. For example, people don't eat fast food because they like it and it's convenient and cheap, but because some evil corporation has brainwashed them into thinking it's good and then conspired to make the food really tasty (yeah, that really is their argument.)
2/08/2010 12:54 PM

# posted by Anonymous Dan
The states public pension blowup will be amazing to watch. How this plays out will be pivotal in determining whether there is any hope for fiscal sanity or whether the political elite will hit the accelerator to reach the cliff even faster.

There really is only one fix to the budget hole and that is for the lower 80% of the electorate to start paying its fair share. This will require means testing, if not elimination of, the child tax credit as well as other credits so that everyone with income pays some real percentage in taxes. You can tax the "rich" at a 50% rate and it won't come close to generating the revenue that taxing the non-rich will.
2/08/2010 1:30 PM

# posted by Blogger Kate Woodbury
I agree that "it's the pretentious rich who are the suckers for slick ads and status symbols and the latest New Age secular religion."

In grad school, the people who were SO convinced that Walt Disney and Walmart and television commercials were corrupting the poor seemed, frankly, the most gullible people there. And their arguments were completely self-serving. As Joe says, "For example, [they argue that] people don't eat fast food because they like it and it's convenient and cheap, but because some evil corporation has brainwashed them into thinking it's good and then conspired to make the food really tasty (yeah, that really is their argument.)"

Yeah, it really is, and it's really silly. I'd sit there going, "Who are all these brainwashed poor people? I've never met them."

Especially since, at the time, I was teaching Welfare-poor students (it's one way to keep in good with the system), and none of them ever seemed to watch television at all. I watched WAY more television than they did. And I knew far more commercials.

(Case in point: every time I see a Mac or Volvo commercial, I think, "Do the people who buy Macs and Volvos really see themselves this way? Are they really that self-deluded? Don't they realize they are being pandered to? Who would fall for this?"

Answer: NOT my low middle-class automotive students, I'll tell you that much!)
2/08/2010 2:41 PM

# posted by Blogger Eugene
A good summation of that particular mindset.
2/08/2010 4:38 PM