Viewpoint: Special interest groups are here to stayIf you doubt that we are in the midst of very silly, nasty, political season, listen to a few of the political advertisements that, among other things, now regularly interrupt our television programs.
By: Thomas St. Martin, Viewpoint Writer, Woodbury Bulletin
If you doubt that we are in the midst of very silly, nasty, political season, listen to a few of the political advertisements that, among other things, now regularly interrupt our television programs. (For our part, we make liberal use of the mute button.) Specifically, consider the nonsensical ads telling us that candidate “X” or candidate “Y,” if elected, will promote the common good by slaying Big Oil, Big Pharma or Big Whatever.
Superficially, such rhetoric is beguiling. Many people, in fact, think that all will be well if we could only rid ourselves of those pesky special interests and their influence, whether in Washington D.C., St. Paul or wherever two or three politicians are gathered together.
Unfortunately, the purveyors of such nonsense either don’t understand the special interest culture that they love to attack or, if they do understand, they are hiding behind a curtain of obfuscations. For, as far I know, special interest politics has become an integral and pervasive — perhaps even definitive — aspect of today’s politics.
Or, to put it differently, the growing influence of special interests is inevitable, reflecting as it does the expansion of the role of government itself: special interests exist both to reap the benefits of government largesse or, alternatively, to protect themselves from government regulations, sanctions and/or taxes. Which is not to argue that all government action is bad: it is to argue, rather, that special interest politics are largely a response to Big Government. Or, in part, a cause of Big Government.
In this regard, think about the sheer number and assertiveness of the special interest groups pushing for some new government program, some new law, some new regulation or some new agency. Or more importantly, some new or expanded public expenditure. Although public sector spending is driven by many factors, special interest pressures play an important role in increasing government spending while concomitantly making it difficult to reduce government spending.
A simple illustration may help in understanding this dynamic. If I can get each of one hundred taxpayers to give me $1, I will have $100. The taxpayers probably will not object too strongly to giving up $1, but if someone threatens to take my $100 I will kick and scream.
Moreover, I, as a special interest, may well try to convince the taxpayers to give me another $0.10 each, telling them that they won’t mind losing another dime (after all, it’s for a good cause.) How many times have we heard this pitch? Or some variant of it?
Moreover, since most of us are either sympathetic to or allied with some special interest group, we are likely to oppose spending reductions, fearing that our own ox may be gored, thus diluting opposition to increased spending and taxation.
Which is to say that most of us are likely to favor spending increases and/or expanded government, hoping that we can get someone else to pay for whatever it is that we want, forgetting that we will probably raise our own taxes (as well as a lot of other people’s taxes.) After all, doesn’t it make sense to give up $1 if I can gain $100: that’s an “offer” that special interests as well as individuals find hard to refuse. This sort of thinking explains, in part, the push for, among other things, universal health care.
At some point, of course, the spending spiral is likely to slow, perhaps even stop, as taxpayers find that they are forced to give up too many dimes and dollars. Thus, taxpayers’ “revolts” and “no new taxes” pledges. Yet, special interest politics being what they are, such resistance often proves short lived if not futile.
But do not misunderstand. I am not condemning taxation per se. Nor am I condemning special interests per se. We should recognize, of course, that special interest politics often entails collusion and corruption, the result of overly cozy relationships between government and non-governmental interest groups. Such relationships must be regulated and, if necessary, forbidden. It does not, follow, however, that we can eliminate special interests and special interest politics.
Like it or not, special interest groups are here to stay, probably even increasing in size and influence, airy, misleading and manipulative political rhetoric notwithstanding.
St. Martin is a resident of Woodbury.