Cause and Effect

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2006

Much as I agree with the gist of this Thomas Frank column on lobbying and the culture of corruption in Washington, reading stuff like this from leftists make me want to grab ’em by the lapels and shake ’em around a little.

Do they not understand that lobbying is the inevitable, inescapeable product of a massive federal government? Thanks to the leviathan regulatory state, subsidies and corporate welfare, and the panoply of bad ideas that haven’t yet made it into law, lawmakers and regulators put hundreds of billions of dollars at stake each year in Washington. If I were a shareholder, I’d be pissed if my company didn’t invest millions (at least) on lobbying. And not just for rent seeking purposes, but also to make sure that other companies don’t seek rents at my company’s expense.

Such is why we see the sad prospect of great companies like Microsoft or Google — companies with a healthy disinterest in Washington — eventually have no choice but to open up a lobbying office inside the Beltway. It’s for self-preservation. Of course, once the office is there, they eventually fall into the rent seeking game, too (Note: Be sure to read the comments to the post at the link above).

Put hundreds of billions in play, and don’t be surprised when the private sector players spends tens of billions to get a piece of it, or to protect the piece they’ve earned.

If Franks is really concerned about corporate power and corruption in Washington, the best way to address his concerns would be to stop giving Washington so much power, and so much discretion to distribute that power. Shrink the federal government, return power and money to the private sector, castrate Congress, and drown the regulatory state. The only reason Duke Cunningham could trade earmarks for cash is because Duke Cunningham had the power to distribute earmarks. And it’s not just lawmakers. I’m certain it’s only a matter of time before we see a rash of scandals involving regulators trading grants and favorable treatment for cash and bribes. They’re were most of the power is migrating these days, and there’s almost no oversight of what’s going on in the labryth of well-funded executive agencies.

The left seems to buy into this rather naive view that we can have a behemoth federal government with its hands on 25 percent of the domestic product in this country, but that with enough well-intentioned lobbying reform bills, McCain-Feingolds, and oversight committees, the people who make up the federal government will stop being flawed human beings with self-interest and shortcomings, and turn into some pristine, altruistic public servant who always puts the “public good” (whatever that means) over himself.

No amount of “lobbying reform” is going to tame K Street. You tame K Street when you start taking money and power out of Washington.

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