Our Northern European Future, continued
To respond briefly to Jamelle’s response to my response to his response to Ross Douthat’s latest column (got that?), I think he’s right that thorough-going campaign finance reform would solve a lot of structural problems associated with regulatory capture and special interest groups. Given Jamelle’s affinity for the Northern European political model, I wasn’t surprised to find that every Scandinavian country directly subsidizes political parties.
Obviously, I have a lot of problems with this approach. I dislike the idea of having governments allocate funds to political parties. I also think that contributing money to a candidate or a political organization is too tightly bound up in the idea of free expression to limit campaign contributions without doing serious violence to the spirit of the First Amendment.
That said, countries like Denmark and Finland have managed to preserve public funding without compromising political freedom. Every Scandinavian country, for example, is ranked favorably by FreedomHouse’s annual index of political freedom.
The quality of Scandinavian governance hasn’t exactly suffered, either. Nordic countries are routinely ranked as having some of the least corrupt governments on the planet. When Matthew Yglesias observed Danish political opinion coalescing around the idea of a revenue-neutral carbon tax, my first reaction was “Hey, that’s the same idea conservative economist Greg Mankiw proposed!” – except that both Mankiw and his critics acknowledge the impossibility of pushing through a reasonably effective green tax in an American political context. Indeed, Jim Manzi’s comprehensive case against a carbon tax hinges on his incredibly pessimistic (and probably accurate) view of Congressional special interest peddlers.
So as a purely empirical proposition, maybe campaign finance reform is a win from the perspectives of both good governance and political freedom. Libertarians and conservatives emphasize the influence of money in politics because it lends credence to the notion that we should downsize government. I find this analysis pretty persuasive, but it doesn’t look like we’re going to start cutting off federal agencies anytime soon. Given these circumstances, perhaps it’s time to give campaign finance reform another look.