Friday, June 11, 2010

Money and Politics

Have a mentioned my theory about money and politics? I'm not sure I have.

We all intuitively sense that money and power co-mingle. Those with power get access to money and those with money get access to power, such that many people believe money is power. Or as Tony Montana said in Scarface:
In this country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women.

FLG hears a lot about how much various industries, usually the "evil" ones, donate to political campaigns and causes. The assumption, at least in the presentation by reporters, is if the tobacco industry gives one gazillion dollars and the anti-tobacco non-profit groups only give a couple hundred thousand, then the tobacco industry has a gazillion times more influence. But FLG doesn't think that's the case.

FLG suggests that generally speaking there are three angles at politicians -- votes, personal, and money. Probably in that order of importance too.

Politicians want votes. Groups like AARP and unions historically could turn out votes. These groups don't really need to donate money. As the unions' ability to deliver votes has fallen, FLG would guess there monetary contributions have increased correspondingly. However, he doesn't have any data to back that up right now.

Then, there are personal appeals. On the uglier side, this involves nepotism and cronyism. But on the more virtuous side there are moral and ethical appeals to do what's right.

Lastly, there's monetary contributions with implicit or explicit quid pro quo.

Returning to the tobacco case mention above, the anti-smoking people have a better case. Everybody knows smoking is bad for you. Whether the government ought to do something about it is something separate, but since we are talking about politicians here we need to assume that the option that the government do nothing is pretty far down the line of priorities. So, the tobacco companies need to donate a gazillion dollars just to get to a point where they're treated neutrally vis-a-vis anti-smoking groups. You can fill in the same for oil companies and banks and insurance companies for tobacco and you get the idea.

Now, you might be saying that it sucks that money can balance out a moral case. That money shouldn't be able to buy off what's right. Well, that's true, but also completely naive. That's how the world works. But you can also look at this as a sort of political tax on sin.

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