Who Owns Your Politicians?

Political discourse is often told through narratives, sometimes supported by facts, sometimes not. One of the narratives that many on the left and some on the right are quite fond of is the idea that free markets, aside from their other alleged flaws, are dangerous to a democracy because the winners of the economic competition will use their resources to buy political influence that will consolidate their power. The proof, they say, is in the influence that corporate lobbies have over elected politicians.

There is truth in this narrative, but its critical flaw is not in what it alleges, but what it fails to take into account.

The whole truth is that while corporations do spend money to influence the political process, their contributions are dwarfed by those made by the most powerful unions and trade associations in the United States. And I have no doubt that the expected result is less economic freedom, and more regulation and policies that serve special interests while directly or indirectly harming the common good.

The aptly named research site Open Secrets (opensecrets.org) publishes a list of the top political donors over the past 20 years. Not only that, but these good people have also noted the party to which the the donations go, as well as how much the donor gives to each party. The truth is fascinating.

While the top donor currently is AT&T, which gives a little more to the GOP than to the Democrats, if one takes a look at the top 20, one will find that only three of the top donors in the country has given significantly more in the way of tens of millions of dollars to the GOP in the last 20 years, and even in these cases, they have not favored the GOP overwhelmingly. A few have given more or less evenly, but the vast majority have given over 90% to the Democrats. These donors are the unions.

The federal worker’s union is the Democrats largest contributor (and third largest overall), contributing to that party’s well-deserved reputation as the party of big government and bureaucracy. 98% of over 43 million dollars has gone from this union into the coffers of Democratic candidates since 1989. 6-14 on the list are also unions that have given similar sums to the Democrats. Even Goldman Sachs, number 5 on the list, has given more to the Dems. 17 & 18 are also powerful unions giving nearly 100% of contributions to the Dems.

There’s no doubt that corporations give more to Republicans. But as one scrolls down this list, which stops at 140, it is impossible not to notice that there are far more entries signifying an over 90% tilt to the Democrats than there are to the Republicans, which means that corporations do not give nearly as much to the GOP as the unions do to the Democrats. And of course, their high positions on the list indicate that the major unions spend more on politics than virtually any corporation besides the two I mentioned – and which again, distribute their contributions more evenly than any union.

In my view these facts utterly demolish the narrative which seeks to establish corporate capitalism as the primary source of political corruption. If one “follows the money”, it leads right back to a stagnant and corrupt union bureaucracy infiltrated by communists and in some cases connected to organized crime. It wasn’t the free market that concentrated these massive amounts of wealth and power in the hands of the few, but a legal racketeering operation that has long outlived whatever social usefulness it might have once held.

One cannot credibly argue, either, that a union is more “representative” of a broader interest while a corporation is representative of a narrow interest, when a) only 12% of the American workforce is unionized, b) only 8% of the private sector is unionized, and c) when many corporations are publicly traded and accountable to stockholders. In fact, there are now more workers participating in Employee Stock Ownership Plans than there are union members in the United States. We speak of a “dinosaur media” when referring to the newspapers or the “big three” networks; the unions are “dinosaur” institutions as well when it comes to actual workers, though they still have a sharp political bite and massive resources at their disposal.

The unions also dabble in pro-abortion politics, and there is no question in my mind that the socialist and communist agitators who either try to or actually successfully infiltrate them push this agenda. The long held position of neutrality of the major national unions on abortion is beginning to creak and crack as well.

In leftist Newspeak, the unions ought to support abortion because union members “resent and resist government intrusion into matters that are essentially private” – as if that ever stopped labor unions from interfering with private property, or the teacher’s unions from viciously opposing homeschooling. The truth is that the socialists and communists factions in the unions believe abortion is a “democratic right” necessary for the “liberation of women”, though in reality it is part of the overall program to destroy the traditional family and replace it with dependence upon some collective, be it the public school, the union, the state, and really all of the above in a hideous bureaucratic symbiosis. The idea that these people care a lick about “privacy” is laughable and absurd.

Sadly even the Church is still mixed up in this business. Though Catholic social teaching holds private property rights, parental education rights, and most importantly the right to life to be sacred and inviolable, it hasn’t stopped various dioceses from collaborating with the unions on other issues.

Tod Tamberg, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which has worked with labor leaders on organizing and immigrant rights, called the vote [a union resolution against an anti-abortion ballot measure -J.H.] “disappointing” but added: “It would be unrealistic to expect every group to believe the same way we do about every issue. It doesn’t preclude us from working together on those areas where we do share common concerns.”

Normally this is a rational sentiment. But in this case Catholics need to realize that unions are part and parcel of the Culture of Death. Whether it stems from the overt agitprop of the open socialists and communists, or simply resides in the fact that union dues are the life’s blood of the pro-abortion Democratic Party, the unions are intimately bound up with the assault on unborn human beings and the traditional family. For the same article notes,

As unions become weaker, as traditional allies fall away, unions can rely increasingly on the liberal left and the radical left,” said Nelson Lichtenstein, a leading scholar of labor history at UC Santa Barbara. “Abortion rights are key issues for American liberals, and these are their allies.”

The unions become weaker, but paradoxically, they gain more political power as they shift more resources to buying politicians. At the same time they become even more susceptible than they were at the height of the Red Scare to Marxist infiltration. This is a toxic and lethal combination. I happen to know from first-hand personal experience that communist infiltration of the unions is a fact. I knew some of the infiltrators, and there is hardly a professional commie in the country that isn’t a full-blown supporter of abortion “rights”, either positively, or by default. My own defection from communism began with my decision to fully develop and speak about my pro-life views.

Those worried about wages and social justice should forget about unions, and support policies that will increase employee ownership, financial security, and the value of the dollar. It was a conservative Republican, Dana Rohrabacher, who introduced the Employee Ownership Act of 1999, and libertarian-constitutionalist Ron Paul and many other conservative Republicans co-sponsored it. This act would have done more for the workers of America than all of the pinko unions have done for them in the last 40 years.

22 Responses to Who Owns Your Politicians?

  • I would like to see some evidence here of all this Marxist/Communist/Socialist infiltration… As well, we in Canada are used to see definitions of terms – those three erms above are NOT interchangeable, and have led over time to a lot of different interpretations. I do not think it is healthy to shake the “Socialist” scarecrow every time someone mentions something that seems in opposition to neo-conservative “values”… Of course it is regrettable that abortion is one issue dearly defended mostly by people described as being on the left, but in my opinion it would be much more beneficial for everyone to build on the positive instead of constantly claiming that if someone is pro-choice, they absolutely cannot do, of even think, anything that is correct. And before anyone accuses me of not being against abortion, I will insist that I do not support abortion at all, but at the same time it seems to me that trying to improve the lot of the poor (In Canada, one child in 10 lives in poverty) could have some positive effect in preventing at least a certain nomber of abortions – maybe not all of them, but it would be a step in the right direction.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Well, there’s a lot to respond to here. Point by point.

    “I would like to see some evidence here of all this Marxist/Communist/Socialist infiltration…”

    The problem here is that there’s so much history, so much evidence, that it isn’t easy to just pick something out. Every socialist and communist organization has as one of its primary goals to either pressure, ally with, or infiltrate the unions. I belonged to an organization that held that the unions were not revolutionary, and that the union workers needed to break away and join an independent political party – a Marxist party. Many of the other organizations on the far left, however, while agreeing that the unions are not revolutionary enough, believe that they can either be pressured or infiltrated, or both. There is division within communism on the “trade union question”, with different groups arguing over whether or not, or to what extent, the unions are a revolutionary force.

    I have personal first hand experience – I knew communist infiltrators in the unions (I interacted with many different groups). I don’t know if you want to count that, since you could always say I’m making it up. But, I’m not.

    There are a lot of historical books and articles on the relationship between socialism, communism, and the unions. But as a matter of theory, never mind the concrete historical practice, leftists of every stripe have to take a definite position on the unions, and a fair number of them see infiltration and subversion as necessary tactics.

    ” As well, we in Canada are used to see definitions of terms – those three erms above are NOT interchangeable, and have led over time to a lot of different interpretations.”

    I was a socialist. A Marxist, in fact. I know what they are, what they do, and why they do it. I don’t shake any scarecrows. And I don’t think Obama is a communist. I think he’s a post-modern, neo-Keyensian technocrat who poses no less a danger to genuine human liberty than authentic communists, though. So, I don’t care if people want to call him a socialist or a fascist. It all amounts to one massive gun pointed at liberty, private property, and Christianity. “Social Democracy” is a form of socialism, moreover, and I think Obama’s political philosophy is close enough to Social Democracy.

    ” I do not think it is healthy to shake the “Socialist” scarecrow every time someone mentions something that seems in opposition to neo-conservative “values””

    I don’t know what you mean by this. First of all, “values” is a word that doesn’t deserve to be in scare quotes, as if they aren’t real. Nothing is important about a man than what he values.

    Next, as I said, I know what socialism is.

    Finally, I am not a neo-conservative.

    “Of course it is regrettable that abortion is one issue dearly defended mostly by people described as being on the left”

    Did you ever ask yourself why that is? It is because the left is inherently anti-family. I don’t mean the average Democratic voter or even the average self-identified liberal. I mean the professional leftists who are activists, lobbyists, political agitators, college professors, film makers, and even many religious leaders. I wouldn’t say that many Catholic leftists are anti-family, but they mistakenly believe they can ally with groups and forces that are extremely hostile to family values and not be burned by them. This is a blunder.

    “but in my opinion it would be much more beneficial for everyone to build on the positive instead of constantly claiming that if someone is pro-choice, they absolutely cannot do, of even think, anything that is correct. ”

    That’s not the issue. They may think any number of correct thoughts. I’m sure we would all agree that 1+1 = 2. The fact is that they are our enemies. And we may pray for them, we may love them in the way that charity obliges, but we should not under most circumstances be allying with them. They live to undermine (or worse, to twist for their own ends) religion and to facilitate the murder of innocent children. To be associated with that is very grave, and very perilous.

    “but at the same time it seems to me that trying to improve the lot of the poor (In Canada, one child in 10 lives in poverty) could have some positive effect in preventing at least a certain nomber of abortions”

    Well, that’s a fallacy. The best thing society can do to prevent abortion is to discourage divorce and single parenthood. 2/3 of abortions in the US – don’t know the Canadian states – are obtained by unmarried women.

    There are very few cases of poverty in a developed country that make abortion even understandable, though nothing justifies it. While a slight majority of abortions according to the numbers I’ve seen are obtained by women with lower-incomes, a pretty hefty minority are obtained by middle class parents (it is not always the mother’s choice) who simply don’t want a child to interfere with their life plans. They abort for the same reason they use birth control, and often when it fails.

  • T. Shaw says:

    My congress person, Carolyn McCarthy (Despicable, NY 4), is owned by Emily’s List. She can’t read. She votes however the socialist handlers/puppeteers on her staff and Nanny Pelosi tell her. She got there because her husband was slaughtered like lambs by Colin Ferguson (in NY only criminals are allowed to have guns), on the LIRR 1993 along with seven others, and Nassau Cty, NY makes Sodom look like a normal place.

    And Marthe, they tried this stuff in Zimbabwe, Venzuela, California, and now Obama’s doing the entire US: look how it’s working.

    Canada will not make poor people wealthy by making wealthy people poor. All that social justice/extracurricular stuff is warmed over lib demokrat politics and ignoring baby murdering and class war.

  • Elaine Krewer says:

    I suspect (and I’m sure you know this also, Joe) that one big reason the Church “collaborates” with unions is because from the time of Pope Leo XIII and Rerum Novarum, up until the rise of Solidarity in Poland, the Church was a strong ally of the union movement. The right to unionize is basically an extension of the natural right of association, as I understand it.

    Of course circumstances were a lot different in Pope Leo’s time. It could be argued that one reason he supported the right to unionize was to insure that the Church could keep a foothold in the union movement and prevent it from becoming totally socialist/communist. To some extent, it worked, at least for a few decades. Anyone remember the “labor priests” of the early-mid 20th century?

    All that being said…. this ain’t your father’s, or grandfather’s, or great-grandfather’s labor movement anymore. In Pope Leo’s time unions were the “little guys” standing up against the corrupt Establishment. Today they ARE the corrupt Establishment to a large extent.

    Although I am a public employee I am in a position that is not unionized and highly unlikely to ever be unionized. That means lower wages and no guaranteed or contractual annual raises; but I’d rather have it that way than “have to” belong to an organization that promoted morally offensive policies.

    Would you argue, Joe, that Catholics now have a moral obligation NOT to join unions, and to quit their jobs if they are in a workplace that becomes unionized?

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Elaine,

    To answer your question, I’d certainly say that Catholics have an obligation to avoid unions that take a pro-abortion position. Most unions as far as I know are still officially neutral on the matter. Of course there are some workers who virtually have no choice but to join a union if they want a job, or to keep the one they have. and so one also has an obligation to one’s family. That’s the most pressing concern.

    I think Catholic workers who might find themselves “stuck” in a union should nonetheless continue to oppose the Democrats politically. I think what we’ve seen in the pro-life movement the last decade or so has really blazed a way forward; the position can no longer be dismissed or ignored, nor can the pro-choice position be taken for granted. The frantic mass emails of the pro-abort groups reflect this. We’ve got them on the defensive, so workers as much as voters can apply pro-life pressure and threaten to split and defect and cause all kinds of trouble if a union takes a pro-abortion position.

    In Poland I think the Solidarity movement was a good thing, since it had such a Catholic element to it and it was so vigorously opposed to communism. It was a labor movement by and for people who had suffered under communist tyranny, not the dregs of Western academia who are possessed with envy and hate and who made careers apologizing for the Soviet Union. The post-communist government in Poland outlawed abortion and every pinko and red in the Western world hated Solidarity for that if for nothing else.

    In Pope Leo’s time, social morality remained more or less in tact. It was under assault, sure, but the culture hadn’t changed. The anti-family, anti-life forces had not had their sexual revolution. We now live in a society in which I’d say the majority takes the major achievements – if you want to call them that – of the sexual revolution for granted. As Catholics, we cannot. We live in a changed world.

  • Henri Truchet says:

    Your entire argument rests on the premise that political donations are the only means of corruption, and you consider only the whole amount of political donations to the parties over a period of time, not individuals in specific cases. Obviously, politicians can be wealthy owners themselves, or their election campaigns benefit and their policy decisions are influenced by other means than direct donation, or perhaps some politicians will do more for less compared to others, or perhaps many other factors ultimately tied to concentrated wealth sway them. You have not taken into account the subtle use of taxation or regulation for personal financial or political gain, nor have you addressed the threat of mere bullying. Even within the narrow boundaries of your own narrative, you simultaneously hold the unions and the forces of concentrated wealth to two different standards, since you imply large holdings of capital and means of production can only possibly muster a simple political bribe and never affect self-government or hurt others in many other ways like unions do. The question of who owns our politicians cannot be answered by considering only the sum of officially recorded political donations. Your assessment of communist intentions and criminal activity is, of course, accurate, but the donation data does not at all demolish the narrative that corporate capitalism is a primary factor in political corruption. Your argument doesn’t take into account the indirect effects of corporate capitalism on the political process. The list you refer to doesn’t even list individual or indirect contributions. The data is useless.

    Also, it is naive to believe that a purported temporary trend toward co-ownership in America will not be totally overwhelmed by competition in a global market dominated by the productive power of totalitarian continents.

    Wall Street gave the Democratic Party more than the Republican Party in the last three years. That has a definite proximate effect on the country, and past donations are irrelevant. The idea that demonstrating big business is merely a secondary source of political corruption would somehow validate Austrian School economics is spurious. That unions are corrupt does not prove that free market economics do not or have not lead to a massive concentration of wealth and power. This one-or-the-other approach is typical of both libertarians and Trotskyites). A free market demands globalism; there cannot be capitalism in one country any more than there can be socialism in one country. There are economic inevitabilities given a particular system without regard to moral considerations, and the system cannot function perfectly unless it encompasses everything and everyone. Ultimately, liberty will mean submitting to gigantic powers far beyond your control, half a world away. The market must be free for the convenience of temporary monopolists and oligarchs. That is the true end of free market economics, and its indistinguishable from the sad consequences of totalitarian economics.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Sounds like a lot of complaining, and not a lot of facts.

    “Obviously, politicians can be wealthy owners themselves,”

    Sure. Like the Rockefellers. What party does Jay belong to again?

    “or their election campaigns benefit and their policy decisions are influenced by other means than direct donation,”

    Such as?

    “or perhaps some politicians will do more for less compared to others, or perhaps many other factors ultimately tied to concentrated wealth sway them.”

    Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. Or perhaps if it quacks like a duck…

    “You have not taken into account the subtle use of taxation or regulation for personal financial or political gain,”

    Isn’t that what the donations are for? To get favorable tax rates and regulations?

    “nor have you addressed the threat of mere bullying.”

    Money talks. The other thing walks.

    ” you simultaneously hold the unions and the forces of concentrated wealth to two different standards, since you imply large holdings of capital and means of production can only possibly muster a simple political bribe and never affect self-government or hurt others in many other ways like unions do”

    That seems to be all you’re saying as well. Everything else looks like speculation. But I’m open-minded. Frankly I don’t think corporations harm liberty in the same way unions do. Corporations don’t force you to work for them; unions force people to join or make it very disadvantageous to do so. Corporations don’t force people to buy their products, but unions force members to pay their dues. Corporations have exactly as much power as we give them. Unions are protected rackets.

    “The question of who owns our politicians cannot be answered by considering only the sum of officially recorded political donations.”

    Nor through idle speculation, I would also imagine. Those are some pretty hefty sums over time, did you notice? 43 million dollars over 20 years from the federal worker’s union. I don’t know if that’s adjusted for inflation, of course.

    “The list you refer to doesn’t even list individual or indirect contributions. The data is useless.”

    That’s really just pathetic, because that is really just irrelevant. The website does go into all of that detail, anyway, providing:

    “Direct “soft money” contributions from the organization’s treasury. Under federal law, contributions from the treasuries of corporations, unions or other organizations may only be given to the parties’ “non-federal” (soft money) committees.

    Contributions from the organization’s political action committee, or PAC. The money for these comes from individuals who work for or are connected with the organization, and it’s given on behalf of the organization.

    Contributions by individuals connected with the organization. This includes employees, officers, and members of their immediate families.”

    It’s not that the data is “useless.” It’s that it doesn’t immediately conform to your preconceived notions as to how things are. All of those things are factored in.

    “Also, it is naive to believe that a purported temporary trend toward co-ownership in America will not be totally overwhelmed by competition in a global market dominated by the productive power of totalitarian continents.”

    It’s even more naive to think that corrupt and moribund union bureaucracies will provide a lasting solution to that problem.

    “The idea that demonstrating big business is merely a secondary source of political corruption would somehow validate Austrian School economics is spurious.”

    It doesn’t “validate it” as if it were a magic key, but it lends weight to their interpretation of things.

    “That unions are corrupt does not prove that free market economics do not or have not lead to a massive concentration of wealth and power.”

    Never said it did. But it certainly shows that free markets aren’t the only way that it can happen, and it throws doubt on those who argue loudly that they are.

    ” A free market demands globalism; there cannot be capitalism in one country any more than there can be socialism in one country.”

    How is this relevant? My issue isn’t with globalism. I don’t have a problem with global capitalism.

    “There are economic inevitabilities given a particular system without regard to moral considerations, and the system cannot function perfectly unless it encompasses everything and everyone.”

    Yeah, and?

    “Ultimately, liberty will mean submitting to gigantic powers far beyond your control, half a world away.”

    No one has to submit to a corporation, unless it has the coercive arm of the state enforcing its power plays. No one has to buy anything, or work anywhere. I’m all for living off the grid – homeschooling, organic home gardening, personal solar panels, vegetable oil fueled cars, whatever works. And I think a demand for that will cause new businesses to arise to meet those needs. Most people are more interested in exchanging things they make/have for things that other people make/have than they are in forcing an ideology down everyone’s throat. A new generation of enterpeneurs who don’t care a lick about preserving old centralized and inefficient technologies will arise and they with their customers will circumvent the old economic structure – if leftists and bureaucrats will get out of their way.

    ” The market must be free for the convenience of temporary monopolists and oligarchs.”

    There is no monopoly in a free market. Free markets necessarily entail competition, and you need at least two players for that. And in many cases, as I’ve read anyway, that is sufficient to prevent the sort of price gauging that monopolies love to engage in.

    ” That is the true end of free market economics, and its indistinguishable from the sad consequences of totalitarian economics.”

    No, I don’t think so. Not if we rid society of the plague of intellectual property rights.

  • Elaine Krewer says:

    I notice that many people talk about corporations, unions, political parties, and government as if they were alien invaders from another planet who must be destroyed before they overrun Earth. They aren’t. They are all, at bottom, collections of real people exercising their right of association or exercising authority granted or delegated to them by elected officials.

    Same goes for those dreaded “special interest groups” — they are basically groups of people who share an interest in some issue (it can be anything from pro-life to motorcycle helmet laws) and are willing to hire people (lobbyists) to do the research and legwork of tracking relevant bills, talking to legislators, etc. that they do not have the time or resources to do themselves.

    While ordinary citizens can easily call or write legislators, that doesn’t have quite the same impact on legislators as a face-to-face meeting with someone who thoroughly understands the issue and can argue persuasively for (or against) a proposed law or regulation. That, in a nutshell, is what lobbyists do for a living. They get paid to drop everything and go to D.C. or your state capital in place of the hundreds or thousands or millions of others who can’t.

    So the problem is not that corporations, unions, and special interest groups are inherently evil or dangerous. The problem is 1) that some of them have the deck stacked in their favor because they have more money and “clout,” and 2) that many of these groups push causes that are harmful or morally offensive.

    The conundrum for me is: how do we “unstack” the deck, without at the same time infringing on the rights of OTHER “real people” to associate with others who share their views, to “petition (the government) for redress of grievances,” to earn or collect (legally) as much money as they can, and to spend their money as they please?

    Frankly, I’m not sure. Perhaps one key is to make the real people who run these organizations as accountable as possible to the other real people who belong to them. When corporate CEOs, union bosses, party chairmen, elected/appointed officials, etc. discover they can do what they damn well please to enrich themselves without any consequences, that’s when you have trouble.

  • Art Deco says:

    Elaine, not all modes of free association are legitimate. Think, for example, of manufacturers contriving to fix prices.

    Unions are not what they were in 1915. Their corporate existence is crucially dependent on the architecture of labor law, which grants them certain enforceable entitlements. That much has been the case for the last 70 years. What was not the case in 1955 and is the case now is that unions are (as often as not) composed of public employees. Our politicians have conceded the process of fixing the pay and benefits and working conditions of the civil service to an association of those same civil servants, in effect granting them para-statal authority. There would be no offense to rights of free association to tell the Service Employees International Union that the pay scales of the civil service will be set by the legislature, now move along.

    In the private sector, characteristics of trade and industrial unionism were unremarkable at a time when an escalating cruelty had been incorporated into labor relations. That is not the case anymore and given that 93% of private sector employees do not belong to unions, one cannot attribute the revision in standard practices to the presence of unions. It is time to re-charter extant unions as associations for the purchase and delivery of pension benefits and insurance and promote company unions and producer co-operatives as agents of collective bargaining (OUTSIDE THE CIVIL SERVICE).

  • Aaron B. says:

    Government employees and other beneficiaries (and their associations) should not be allowed to contribute to the campaigns of those who write their checks. Likewise, corporations that do government work shouldn’t be able to contribute to the campaigns of the people who pay them. If you work for a city, for instance, you could still contribute to state and federal campaigns, but not to the mayor who signs your paychecks or will be deciding whether to hire your engineering firm to put in that new bridge.

    I don’t know how you make that work as a practical matter, exactly; but it just makes sense as a way to avoid the huge amount of conflict of interest we have now. When over half the population gets a check from government, and therefore has every incentive to keep government spending high and the number of government jobs growing, there’s no way that’s sustainable.

  • Elaine Krewer says:

    “When over half the population gets a check from government”

    Are you including everyone who gets a federal income tax refund in that statistic? I don’t think that merely getting a tax refund falls in the same category as, say, having a government job or getting food stamps, Medicaid, student aid, etc. It simply means that you paid more tax than you owed in the previous year.

    Moreover, I would think that getting a tax refund would be all the more incentive to LOWER government spending and jobs, because the lower your taxes are the bigger your refund will be!

  • Aaron B. says:

    No, I’m not including people who get their own money back after having it taken and used interest-free for the previous year. (Though, as most people don’t realize, there are many people who get more in refund than they paid in, thanks to the Earned Income Credit.) As you say, a tax refund doesn’t give you any incentive to want government bigger. A government job or subsidy check or welfare check does.

    Of course, in the case of large corporations, many times they benefit from government regulation rather than largesse, by lobbying for regulatory schemes that reduce competition and keep newcomers out of the market.

    So like I said, I’m not suggesting I have a finished plan here, and it’s a pie-in-the-sky idea that’ll never happen anyway. But in theory, or when some new country is making a constitution someday, I think it would be a good idea to try to prevent that conflict of interest as much as possible. It’s almost bad enough now to make publicly-funded elections seem like an improvement.

  • Henri Truchet says:

    The speculation in my response was due to the incompleteness of your argument.

    “Sounds like a lot of complaining, and not a lot of facts.

    I pointed out facts about human nature, that is, opportunities for coercion that have have nothing to do with unreliable donation data.

    “’or their election campaigns benefit and their policy decisions are influenced by other means than direct donation,’

    Such as?

    One need not directly and publicly donate money to support or coerce, and you won’t find evidence where there has been no crime. But even if no law has been broken, there may yet be interference between the general will and the representative.

    “’or perhaps some politicians will do more for less compared to others, or perhaps many other factors ultimately tied to concentrated wealth sway them.”’

    Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. Or perhaps if it quacks like a duck…

    Why don’t you use your imagination? The most successful criminals do. The whole point of my list of possibilities is that your narrative is extremely narrow. It is disingenuous to claim that I conflated facts with reasonable possibilities.

    “’nor have you addressed the threat of mere bullying.’

    Money talks. The other thing walks.

    The threat of financial collapse inspiring bailouts is not a publicly recorded donation. Nonetheless, the state was coerced by the forces of concentrated wealth as well as the ever-shrinking unions. You yourself have said that the primary interest of unions is to consolidate economic and political power, yet, while you do not find it inconceivable that the biggest businesses would take advantage of their mutual interest in monopoly (for unions desire stability and self-perpetuation), you claim that if unions did not exist and there was erected a separation between business and state, similar consolidating efforts between businesses and between businesses and foreign powers would not long exist. But even if competition always succeeded in breaking up monopolies for a time, how does it benefit mankind to likely repeat this process indefinitely, having a great aggregation of wealth and productive power merely change hands across generations? It is a matter of public record that non-union Wall Street donations spiked in favor of the Democratic Party for the last three years. They all know both interests can be served at once, and the general will of the people does not matter.

    Life is a right, and so is ownership of property once obtained. You would not tolerate starving some because one holds more food than he needs. Neither would a reasonable person tolerate a man with more capital from driving many established poorer men out of business because he can.

    “Frankly I don’t think corporations harm liberty in the same way unions do. Corporations don’t force you to work for them; unions force people to join or make it very disadvantageous to do so. Corporations don’t force people to buy their products, but unions force members to pay their dues. Corporations have exactly as much power as we give them. Unions are protected rackets.

    Then either unions caused the state to force us to buy from insurance companies, or corporations do not have only as much power as we give them, since most people are against what our elected officials have recently made law.

    Corporations do force you to work for them. When unbridled competition annihilates small businesses, that is indeed the larger forcing the smaller to work for them or starve. Unless you can demonstrate the free market would save small businesses, the end of global libertarian economics would be a world with no borders, countries without roots, and families without territory. If your main concern is the strengthening of families, you will achieve the opposite by embracing a global free market. The early United States was essentially protectionist, and it worked well. Only when the revenue from domestic taxes (and there were initially no domestic taxes at all) exceeded tariffs did socialism become a serious problem, and consequently, globalism a fad, culminating in a senseless graduated income tax that treats domestic small businesses like huge businesses, and foreign businesses far better than both.

    “Those are some pretty hefty sums over time, did you notice? 43 million dollars over 20 years from the federal worker’s union. I don’t know if that’s adjusted for inflation, of course.

    Campaign funds would be useless if there was not already pressure applied to the people, one way or another.

    “’The list you refer to doesn’t even list individual or indirect contributions. The data is useless.’

    That’s really just pathetic, because that is really just irrelevant…”

    It’s relevant because you made it relevant when you relied on that one list. Your conclusion didn’t follow from your premises because the data was insufficient. Be angry with yourself, and more meticulous next time.

    “It’s not that the data is “useless.” It’s that it doesn’t immediately conform to your preconceived notions as to how things are. All of those things are factored in.

    They are considered notions, not preconceived. That OpenSecrets.org has accurately factored in all official public records of donations is still irrelevant if true because the effect of public corporate donations can only be examined in specific cases, in specific times, and for specific candidates. We all know who the unions support; I refer to the donations of corporate capitalists. You relied on the sum of all donations over the course of twenty years, which does not account for the complexity of competing interests in specific cases. Less money may accomplish more at the state level to produce a national or international result. So a union is not comparable to a business. You cannot conclude from the data that because corporations donate less than unions, they do not collude, do not monopolize, and would or would not behave in a definite way given another set of conditions (like a free market). It just doesn’t follow. At most, you have only shown that corporations may not be the primary source of political corruption (as if being merely the secondary source is much better). But, again, big businesses have a reach that unions do not. This is one reason why globalization is hostile to democratic government.

    “It’s even more naive to think that corrupt and moribund union bureaucracies will provide a lasting solution to that problem.

    I never spoke a word in support of unions at all; you falsely attribute that to me, or at least imply it here.

    “’The idea that demonstrating big business is merely a secondary source of political corruption would somehow validate Austrian School economics is spurious.’

    It doesn’t “validate it” as if it were a magic key, but it lends weight to their interpretation of things.

    That’s weak. The very same conclusion lends just as much weight to orthodox Trotskyite Marxism, if you remember that the goal of revolutionary forces, like infiltrated unions, is to ultimately smash the state and create an international proletarian monopoly.

    “’That unions are corrupt does not prove that free market economics do not or have not lead to a massive concentration of wealth and power.’

    Never said it did. But it certainly shows that free markets aren’t the only way that it can happen, and it throws doubt on those who argue loudly that they are.

    Your premises do not support even this much, since you do not address the fact that zero regulation means a free market somewhere can potentially interact with a regulated market somewhere else, putting the free market at a disadvantage. Again, you make the case for the free market as if the world were wholly free or wholly regulated, all or nothing, when reality is more complex than that. That is why I brought up globalism. If you’re not a protectionist, you must address the interaction between states with different economies, like the real world. Certainly, foreign unions can have no direct effect on our political system; foreign big businesses can and do – the reverse is true also.

    “’There are economic inevitabilities given a particular system without regard to moral considerations, and the system cannot function perfectly unless it encompasses everything and everyone.’

    Yeah, and?

    That is the definition of tyranny.

    “No one has to submit to a corporation, unless it has the coercive arm of the state enforcing its power plays. No one has to buy anything, or work anywhere.”

    In most cases, that’s like telling a bunch of drowning families they don’t have to use your personal flotation devices. Absurd.

    “There is no monopoly in a free market. Free markets necessarily entail competition, and you need at least two players for that. And in many cases, as I’ve read anyway, that is sufficient to prevent the sort of price gauging that monopolies love to engage in.

    Very well. Then there will be duopolies and triopolies and so on, and they will exist because there are always many clever people. Your libertarian faith in the possibility of meaningful free competition in a global market in the absence of sane state regulation reminds me of the detached conscienceless zeal of Marxists. This is a tenet that defies common sense. I don’t believe in the divisive power of competition any more than I believe human communism will be an inevitable stage in the development of the universe. But even if I did, that would not change the fact that even temporary consolidation causes permanent damage (so far as the average human lifespan is concerned), and therefore ought not be allowed by the law of any civilized country.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Henri,

    “It is disingenuous to claim that I conflated facts with reasonable possibilities.”

    I didn’t. I didn’t say your “possibilities” weren’t reasonable. I just don’t find them to be supported.

    “But even if competition always succeeded in breaking up monopolies for a time, how does it benefit mankind to likely repeat this process indefinitely, having a great aggregation of wealth and productive power merely change hands across generations? ”

    It is not some great thing for competition to break up monopolies, and it always benefit mankind when it happens. People who are in competition in the market must find ways to make their product more accessible to greater masses of people. When they do, both the sellers and buyers prosper.

    I want to respond to the rest of this, but I have to run. I’ll be back in a couple of hours if you want to wait for me to finish.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Continued.

    ” It is a matter of public record that non-union Wall Street donations spiked in favor of the Democratic Party for the last three years.”

    And while I do find that be relevant, this post was concerned with the long-term trends. Those are relevant too.

    “Life is a right, and so is ownership of property once obtained. You would not tolerate starving some because one holds more food than he needs. Neither would a reasonable person tolerate a man with more capital from driving many established poorer men out of business because he can.”

    These are not the same thing. A general right to property does not entitle anyone to any property in particular. You have a right to what you can legitimately acquire through labor, or in extreme cases only, theft.

    As long as there is no force or fraud involved with the transfer or exchange of property, an ethical person has to “tolerate” it.

    “Then either unions caused the state to force us to buy from insurance companies, or corporations do not have only as much power as we give them, since most people are against what our elected officials have recently made law.”

    I don’t understand your either/or. The corporations did not force Obamacare on the nation. The Democrats did. Yes the insurance giants benefit from it, and yes, I find it to be unconstitutional and a gross violation of the commerce clause, but the corporations on their own could not force us to do anything. Who levies the fines for those who fail to purchase health insurance? Who throws people in jail who refuse to pay them?

    “Corporations do force you to work for them. When unbridled competition annihilates small businesses, that is indeed the larger forcing the smaller to work for them or starve.”

    And when regulations make the cost of entry into a given market prohibitive, that is the state forcing people to become the customers of the state’s favored corporations.

    I’m all for getting rid of intellectual property rights and allowing independent, local businesses to take advantage as soon as possible of new technologies. But IP is established and enforced by the state.

    “Unbridled competition” would actually mean, well, more competition. It’s not unbridled now and it never really has been, though at times it has been closer than others. And if a company captures the lion’s share of the market through innovation, through successfully meeting the human needs of masses of people with more efficient production and distribution, then there are no practical or moral grounds on which to object. There is no divine right to a small business. But it is regulations, IP rights, protectionism, and inflation that protect the interest of the large at the expense of the small, and those things are products of statism.

    “Unless you can demonstrate the free market would save small businesses, the end of global libertarian economics would be a world with no borders, countries without roots, and families without territory.”

    I don’t know if it would save what we traditionally think of as “small businesses”, but I think that it would lead to a decentralization of several industries and make local production and control far more fiesable. The key is ensuring that information and technology remain free. That’s why a lot of serious libertarians, especially the Austrians, are opposed to IP “rights.” Ideas are not property, and they are not properly subject to supply and demand because they aren’t really scarce. They can be replicated infinitely, and to try and profit from something that is not inherently profitable is called “rent seeking.” All libertarians are, or ought to be, opposed to that.

    “The early United States was essentially protectionist, and it worked well.”

    Yes, in the Cold War era, for a limited time. I don’t deny that there can occasionally occur a geopolitical situation that makes protectionism an attractive option. But that situation is long gone. The Soviet Union was the most protectionist society on the face of the Earth, and collapsed for that reason. China abandoned protectionism while retaining authoritarianism in the political sphere and achieved the highest growth rates in the world.

    Protectionism at this stage would lead to economic collapse and possible the third world war.

    “Only when the revenue from domestic taxes (and there were initially no domestic taxes at all) exceeded tariffs did socialism become a serious problem”

    I don’t buy that at all. Socialism becomes a serious problem because it stifles innovation and destroys the incentive to produce rationally and efficiently. Only the discipline and the rewards of competition can keep producers in line. And without access to a global market, a country cannot have access to new technology, it can’t upgrade its infrastructure, it begins to stagnate and decline – like Brezhnev’s USSR.

    “It’s relevant because you made it relevant when you relied on that one list. Your conclusion didn’t follow from your premises because the data was insufficient.”

    I think you, on your own, inflated “my conclusion” with a knee-jerk reaction and read more in to what I was saying than was really there.

    “You relied on the sum of all donations over the course of twenty years, which does not account for the complexity of competing interests in specific cases.”

    I don’t think that needs to be shown to simply demonstrate that unions give more to the Democrats than anyone else gives to the Republicans. All I was doing was challenging a common perception that major corporations buy (mostly) Republican politicians to consolidate their power. I don’t even deny that this happens – I am simply adding to this story the fact that unions spend more to influence the Democrats.

    “You cannot conclude from the data that because corporations donate less than unions, they do not collude, do not monopolize, and would or would not behave in a definite way given another set of conditions (like a free market). It just doesn’t follow.”

    I don’t think I concluded that at all. Where did I say that? I never linked that premise to that conclusion.

    ” The very same conclusion lends just as much weight to orthodox Trotskyite Marxism”

    Hardly. You want to strike at the power aligned against national sovereignty and local economies? Look to the UN, the World Bank, and the WTO. Look to ridiculous arrangements such as NAFTA. These have nothing to do with “free trade.” It is managed trade in service of global cartels. Free markets do not support cartels.

    As I said above, a true libertarian approach to the market would abolish restrictions on the flow of information and technology and allow more people to profit and prosper from these things.

    “Again, you make the case for the free market as if the world were wholly free or wholly regulated, all or nothing, when reality is more complex than that.”

    I made no such claim. Even a basic legal framework, which Austrians such as Hayek and Wilhelm Ropke were vigorously in favor of, would be a sort of “regulation.” I’m not a Rothbardian anarcho-capitalist. A free market needs a legal framework to remain free. The aim of governments should be to maintain competitive conditions, not destroy them.

    “Certainly, foreign unions can have no direct effect on our political system; foreign big businesses can and do – the reverse is true also.”

    Foreign unions can have an effect on our economy for certain. The power of global businesses is derived from the international institutions that defend their interest. I’m opposed to those institutions. I say to hell with the WTO.

    “Your libertarian faith in the possibility of meaningful free competition in a global market in the absence of sane state regulation reminds me of the detached conscienceless zeal of Marxists. ”

    We perhaps disagree on what is “sane state regulation.” I oppose “regulations” that favor certain unions and corporations at the expense of entrepreneurs and consumers. I oppose cartels and their political lobbies.

  • c matt says:

    Socialism becomes a serious problem because it stifles innovation and destroys the incentive to produce rationally and efficiently.

    But abolishing IP rights would not? What incentive would there be to spend $$$ on research and development of a new product or develop a brand if anybody can simply copy it and reproduce it without having had to incur the development or promotional costs? Why bother developing Photoshop if as soon as you sold the first copy, it could be copied off ad infinitum and sold for less or given away?

  • c matt says:

    But it is regulations, IP rights, protectionism, and inflation that protect the interest of the large at the expense of the small, and those things are products of statism.

    IP cuts both ways – if there were no IP laws, the entrepeneur who comes up with the latest hot gizmo after spending half his adult life and family fortune developing it would have no recourse against Big Biz, Inc. simply copying it and mass producing it putting Mr Entrep out of business before he starts. Do you really think Mr. Entrep could compete with BBI’s advertising and sales force, production capabilities, and distribution channels? Heck no. But with IP protection, he could force BBI to pay him a royalty and fairly compensate him. A good example was the guy who invented the intermittent windshield wipers. The auto manufacturers just stole it from him, never paid him a dime. Thanks to strong IP laws, he was able to sue and recover what he was entitled to.

  • Henri Truchet says:

    This is very interesting. I was under the impression that you were defending anarcho-capitalism, which I understand to be essentially statist, ultimately, like all supposed anarchic philosophies, since in the absence of a regulatory government that keeps the game fair, wealth would become the government, with the stronger dominating the weaker with what I suppose you could call de facto laws. States yielding to certain corporations or unions, favoring one business over another, as is the case now, produces the same effect. There might as well be no state at all for similar conditions to arise. That is my main object of criticism, and is apparently yours as well. I am looking at it from the perspective of the businesses (and of course unions) that take advantage of weak or improper government in order to create what you call cartels. Do you not think that so long as any state yields to any form of moneyed power, corporation and union together, ostensibly to regulate the market, so long will this organized crime continue? To me, the question is how to cordon off a space in which men can be free from this form of corruption. If that means protectionism, so it must be.

    By protectionism, I did not mean anything resembling Soviet or Chinese total isolation. I meant only the policy I referred to: not Cold War era protectionism, but our early 19th century federal government that reclined only on tariffs without any domestic taxes.

    “China abandoned protectionism while retaining authoritarianism in the political sphere and achieved the highest growth rates in the world.”

    China achieved the highest growth rate in the world because our own government gave the PRC government the security of being owed huge sums of our tax money indefinitely, combined with our own big businesses and government (not unions, per se) liquidizing the United States. It has nothing to do with the free productive power of Chinese entrepreneurs being unleashed by the miracle of international trade. The reason wealthy Americans continually betray their countrymen and our founding principles by doing business in China is because any and every slave-state in history is a more secure investment than a democracy…. and the governments and unions at home have together forced them out for a reason.

    “Protectionism at this stage would lead to economic collapse and possible the third world war.”

    I don’t believe in mutually assured destruction. It is detestable to use the threat of world war to prevent a sovereign nation from protecting its own interests. By the way, this is exactly what I referred to when I said there are other coercive ways for big businesses to unduly influence politicans than donations.

    “’Only when the revenue from domestic taxes (and there were initially no domestic taxes at all) exceeded tariffs did socialism become a serious problem’

    I don’t buy that at all. Socialism becomes a serious problem because it stifles innovation and destroys the incentive to produce rationally and efficiently. Only the discipline and the rewards of competition can keep producers in line. And without access to a global market, a country cannot have access to new technology, it can’t upgrade its infrastructure, it begins to stagnate and decline – like Brezhnev’s USSR.”

    I suppose I was not clear. I did not mean socialist policy is beneficial in a protectionist state, like a fascist. I meant that the early to mid 19th U.S political landscape was defined by the tariff issue, which was used as a weapon by the north and the south to hurt each other’s differing economic interests. Assuming you favor a modern industrial economy, whenever tariffs were low, the temptation to socialize internationally became manifest, particularly among immigrants, especially from the 1840-50s on when sounthern Democrat agriculturalists controlled the Federal government and brought the tariff to its lowest rate in 1857. Not surprisingly, this perfectly coincides with the Panic of 1857.

    Protectionism is not isolationism. Nothing stopped new ideas from entering the United States; the idea was to limit the trade of physical goods that are better produced domestically. To do this, your tax on imports must be equal to or slightly higher than your tax on exports, though not high enough to cause other countries to retaliate, as was the case before World War I. When the early progressives and later New Dealers attempted to get rid of tariffs in favor of a high income tax, they utterly failed to increase trade, as was their intention, because they hurt domestic production. Progressives responded to effects of World War I on trade by drastically changing the tax system, and decided to favor the new system long after the war was over. They replaced the old trade policy with a country-by-country system that favors some markets more than others.

    However, the main point of keeping the sum of federal revenue tied to the tariff was to keep government small and prevent an income tax in order to bolster the domestic production on which exports depend.

    “All I was doing was challenging a common perception that major corporations buy (mostly) Republican politicians to consolidate their power. I don’t even deny that this happens – I am simply adding to this story the fact that unions spend more to influence the Democrats.”

    You are right. I read many more different things into it than what you said.

    “‘The very same conclusion lends just as much weight to orthodox Trotskyite Marxism’

    Hardly. You want to strike at the power aligned against national sovereignty and local economies? Look to the UN, the World Bank, and the WTO. Look to ridiculous arrangements such as NAFTA. These have nothing to do with “free trade.” It is managed trade in service of global cartels. Free markets do not support cartels.”

    I do not disagree with anything you say here, but infiltrated unions purposely bringing down the economy of a country is very much part of the revolutionary modus operandi.

    “As I said above, a true libertarian approach to the market would abolish restrictions on the flow of information and technology and allow more people to profit and prosper from these things.”

    Out of curiosity, would this not require most of the world to adopt the libertarian approach? Or do you think even if most of the economic power on Earth is dominated by organized subversives, a minority of hypothetical honest nations can successfully compete among themselves without interference? Do you think coexistence is even possible? I don’t.

    “Even a basic legal framework, which Austrians such as Hayek and Wilhelm Ropke were vigorously in favor of, would be a sort of ‘regulation.’I’m not a Rothbardian anarcho-capitalist. A free market needs a legal framework to remain free. The aim of governments should be to maintain competitive conditions, not destroy them.”

    Regulation doesn’t deserve scare quotes, as if it always means applying socialist policy to a capitalist society.

    “Foreign unions can have an effect on our economy for certain. The power of global businesses is derived from the international institutions that defend their interest. I’m opposed to those institutions. I say to hell with the WTO.”

    Definitely.

    “We perhaps disagree on what is ‘sane state regulation.’ I oppose “regulations” that favor certain unions and corporations at the expense of entrepreneurs and consumers. I oppose cartels and their political lobbies.”

    We don’t fundamentally disagree. I thought you were setting up a defense of universal anarchy. We would probably part ways on what individual states in this union would be allowed to do to protect their own interests, but that is no longer directly related to this discussion, is it.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    20 years or so is a long time to wait while people die of diseases or go without technologies that could improve their lives. Some corporations are in the habit of buying up patents simply so that they cannot be used to mass produce things that would interfere with their operations.

    Copyrights are even more ridiculous and absurd. We’ve got well over 90% of music downloaded on the internet “illegally”, and the dinosaur record companies threatening to hit working stiffs with massive lawsuits on a massive scale, and even lobbying the government to use technologies that would shut down or mess up the computers of people who “illegally” downloaded music.

    This is clearly desperate rent-seeking behavior, a final pathetic but also rather aggressive last-stand by people who have been rendered obsolete by new technologies.

    I wouldn’t necessarily abolish IP altogether. I would start in areas where lives are at stake – medicine, power, transportation, and the like. And copyrights over things like music are just going to have to go. They made sense when the means of production were centralized; now every home computer is a media factory and distribution center. The jig is up. It’s time to move on.

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