Managing the influence of money on politics? a.k.a the problem with democracy (or at least one of them)
Can the influence of money and individual power on public policy be mitigated by structuring government power differently (e.g. isolating decision makers from financial and personal rewards, or setting up competing and overlapping nexuses of power)?
In order to find out whether the influence of money on policy can be mitigated by structuring government differently, we must know how money does in fact end up affecting policy. We will leave aside the question of whether said effect is beneficial or not. So, how exactly does wealth influence policy? One way is through controlling the media. Through controlling the media (if they indeed do so and it is to the detriment of the people), they influence people’s minds in ways that have nothing to do with the truth of the views that they propose (and much more to do with he intuitiveness of the ideas and the particular way it is presented). The problem then is with political power being in the hands of people who could be controlled in such a way. So of course, one problem with democracy is the voters themselves…
The other way that they could do it is to basically bribe politicians with campaign donations. But, in order for politicians to find this an acceptable trade, it must be the case that the campaign donation was able to benefit the politician more than supporting the bill would cost him. This means that either the cost of supporting the bil was relatively small or the benefit of the campaign donation was large or both. If the cost of supporting the bill was small, that means that either people were not paying attention, or the bill did not deviate too much from their political preferences. If the former, again, it’s the people’s own fault and they should be paying attention. If the latter, then there isn’t much influence exerted anyway. The politician would have supported the bill or something similar in any case because that is what his constituents prefer. On the other hand if the benefit of extra money is huge, this means that apart from getting the message out (which is in any case a relatively low cost endeavour), the additional money can influence people’s opinions by paying for slick campaign ads etc. Again even if there were no campaign ads, there is no reasonable expectation that people would choose correctly. Voters are still the problem. Gentlemen, is it me or is there a pattern emerging here…
So, how do we deal with this? Let us just look at what solutions will be effective if implemented and leave aside issues of whether important liberties are violated.
1.One solution is to not have voters at all or just let only the less irrational people vote. In a technocracy or epistocracy, if you wanted to influence views, you would have to publish. Slick ads in the media or massaging of message would work to a far lesser extent.
2. Alternatively, a democracy could just remove an entire type of policy from democratic control and hand it over to an independent body like the Fed or enshrine a few rules into the constitution.
3. Since one of the big problems is that the existence of political campaigns makes such bribery attractive to both parties, getting rid of political campaigns (or sharply limiting them) would also sharply limit the marginal benefit conferred by adding money to a campaign. The perpetual campaign cycle and the large size of campaign coffers are closely related. The marginal benefit of the additional dollar does not diminish so much because more money just means that you can start campaigning earlier and gives you more staying power. The wealthier candidate can therefore afford to start earlier in order to make a more lasting impression. Competitors are forced to start campaigning earlier or they lose out. For this they need more money and the demand for campaign contributions from various sources including rich corporations increases. i.e. this creates an arms race. This is also why supply side interventions which increase the number and types of special interests are not going to reduce the effect of money on politics. It may end up changing the effect, but the effect of money on politics thus becomes larger as that gives politicians that many more sources of money and allows them to hold out for larger amounts if they want to.
Let us suppose that on the other hand, we imposed a time limit on political campaigns. No political campaigning more the six months before election day. This means that the marginal benefit of the additional dollar to the campaign drops very quickly. Hopefully this way, politicians can have meaningful conversations about policy as well.
Either kind of solution, when carried to an extreme completely eliminates democracy. If we disenfranchised all voters or we removed all issues from the consideration of democratic bodies and relegated them to some kind of constitutional rule or some independent technocratic body, there wouldn’t be any room for democratic decision-making. Similarly, democracies would collapse if no political campaigning was allowed. (At the very least Mr Isquith wouldn’t have anything to say *grin*)
Now, let’s bring back considerations of liberty etc. Many of you will find a lot of the above solutions morally appalling. Which of the above are the least appalling? Also, is this least appalling solution better than the status quo?