How to Justify Legislation
Every problem, no matter how small or inconsequential, can never fail to be magnified, exaggerated, or – with a suitably agenda-driven Media – simply concocted out of whole cloth by partisan hacks and flacks, and then subsequently painted as requiring government intervention of one kind or another. This typically take the form of regulation, spearheaded by those fearsome warriors of the quill, our legislators! Boies Penrose, the PA legislator and US Senator (quoted in Part I) was famous for his “squeeze bills.” These were essentially extortion threats to businesses within a given industry that they would be strictly regulated by Congress…unless they paid a certain fee to the re-election campaign of a given politician. If you think this is some relic of the past, please understand: your Congressional representatives do this to businesses ALL. OF. THE. TIME. In other words, Virginia, not only is there not a Santa Claus, but Congress is also not very different in result from the Mafia in its shakedowns of legitimate businesses. It is nothing more or less than the same ol’ protection rackets, except the armed thugs who enforce it will not be Bent-Nose Tony or One-Eyed-Vito, instead it will be the police who, like good soldiers, will dutifully take to the streets to ensure the dictates of their legislative masters are not being ignored by the tax-donkeys citizenry.
If this seems unduly harsh on the police, consider the underlying circumstances that instigated the encounter between Eric Garner and New York police in 2014. All of the hoopla was around choke holds, police training, and racism, but flushed down the memory-hole is the reason police had an interaction with Eric Garner in the first place: he had been picked up previously in that same area for selling “loosies,” a term for single cigarettes. “Why is selling loose cigarettes a crime in the first place?” you might ask. Well, that was made a crime by the New York legislature, which came on the heels of massive sin taxes they placed on cigarettes, which created the black market for “loosies” in the first place. In summary then, the police killed a man, Eric Garner, who wasn’t even selling cigarettes at the time, but was in the same location where he had been arrested for it previously, and when the police encountered him trying to break up a fight, the fatal encounter began. The real tragedy goes unaddressed amidst all of the hoopla over whether the encounter/actions of the police were racially motivated or not. It wasn’t racially motivated: it was economically motivated… by the legislature. Tobacco companies, demonized (justly or not) by the public because of their actions in hiding what they knew about tobacco’s addictive properties and higher statistical propensity to cause lung cancer, became easy, easy targets for legalized extortion by your elected representatives: the legislative branch. No one stood up in defense of those companies’ rights – and that is exactly how everyone’s rights are diminished. If you won’t stand up for the rights of the most odious among us, then you don’t really believe in those rights. You just like to tell yourself that you do.
Only a rare few magazines or authors have focused on this point.
Why were the cops so hell-bent on stamping out the sales of loosies, which typically sell for 75 cents a pop in Staten Island (and two times or more that in Manhattan)? New York City boasts the highest cost for cigarettes in the nation, with a pack ranging anywhere from $12 and up. The city lays its own taxes on top of the state’s, in an effort both to raise revenue and discourage use of tobacco.
The result is a thriving market in sales of loosies and black-market cigarettes more generally. Since 2006, the tax on cigarettes in New York have risen 190 percent and cigarette smuggling has risen by 59 percent, writes Lawrence J. McQuillan of the Independent Institute. Whether it’s liquor, drugs, or cigarettes, when you try to stamp out something consenting adults want, you cause as many or more problems as you ameliorate.
– Nick Gillespie (from the above-linked article).
And if you didn’t believe these phenomenon are in any way related, note this article from the Wall Street Journal, subtitled, “The New York Police Department has made nearly 33% fewer arrests citywide so far this year for selling untaxed cigarettes.”
The police enforce the will of the legislature. The legislature sells legislation to political donors. Political donors, both corporate and individual, become ‘constituents’ only one way… You aren’t a recognized constituent until you start donating to politicians’ campaigns. Prior to that time, the only time politicians can “hear you” is if you manage to make a big, loud, angry mess that gets picked up by the Media and either (a) they see an opportunity to leverage you/your issue, or (b) might harm their reelection chances.
In summary thus far, we know that (a) even the previously-believed-to-be-a-saint Father of the Country, George Washington, bribed the voters in his district to win election; (b) no modern legislator comes anywhere moderately close to being even half of the gentlemen that George Washington genuinely was; (c) and Lord Acton was entirely correct.
Devalue Politicians by Changing the Economics
Having identified the root of the problem, the question becomes how to control the flow of money into politicians’ coffers. Every attempt has failed because even honest and well-intentioned reformers seek to attack the “money” – and not the underlying economics that are at the heart of the entire corrupt enterprise. It is unfortunately the same kind of animist thinking that sees banning guns as the only way to stop shootings, or banning drugs as the way to lower drug addiction, etc. The simplest, most effective solution is to attack the basis of the underlying economy: in this case, to make politicians not worth buying. (In the other examples, it’s to stop re-enacting Prohibition by legislative fiat over and over again, but those are separate subjects for their own space another time.)
What does it Cost for Legislation?
The primary method politicians use to avoid the sticky problem of being directly bribed by their political donors has been the “re-election campaign as front for political quid pro quo.” That is the current popular way to solicit money from paying customers. (i.e. political constituents who would be affected by a given piece of legislation). While it is true some politicians have found other, more ingenious variations on this theme, political campaigns continue to be the primary vehicle for buying legislation.*
(*One could, however, set up a really bizarre shell Foundation/corporation/non-profit with subchapters in other countries, and then launder your political payoffs through said Foundation, where all of your friends, family, political lackeys, and supporters also happen to work and draw a handsome salary… some while simultaneously drawing a government salary! You might even get your disbarred spouse to give highly-paid speaking engagement in countries where you might be able to affect United States foreign policy in favor of those paying for said speaking gigs… just an idea, of course.)
Buying legislation (i.e. making a large donation to a campaign) for your own benefit, or to the detriment of your competitors or smaller businesses, always comes with the possibility that the legislative promise can’t be kept. The best thing the Founding Fathers did was to spread the legislative power out over a wide geographical and political area, and make it procedurally difficult to gain a consensus. Congress is filled with a myriad of committees and subcommittees and byzantine rules of procedure. That reality is already priced into the market for legislation. It’s why politicians are constantly campaigning – they don’t just get big sacks of money by promising they’re going to pass a law. It’s not that simple.
The junior Congresswoman from Nebraska, for example, is unlikely to be able to do squat legislatively for several terms. Thus, what she can expect to solicit in campaign donations is not very much. Committee Chairs, however, have power to control agendas for their committees, including what legislation gets “tabled” or considered. Consequently, those committee chairs are “worth” more on the market for legislation/campaign donations. Speakers, the Whip, and other senior party members are obviously worth even more again, and so on up the line, which is why Presidential elections are like the Super Bowl of political campaigns: the money spent is a direct reflection of the power that the “marketplace” for political control sees in the Presidency: the veto power, the right to appoint Supreme Court justices for life, foreign policy, the military, etc.
Now that we start to understand how the legislative sausage is made, or perhaps more importantly, who actually pays to have the legislative sausage made, we’re in a better position tot understand what real “reform” would look like. It also helps explain why reform never really happens: because the people who pass the laws are in no way going to slaughter their own cash cow. In the next part I explain how to change the economics around politics.