Green Room

I’m shocked, shocked that there’s vote-trading going on in Casablanca

posted at 11:53 am on December 23, 2009 by

Say then, my friend, in what manner does tyranny arise? –that it has a democratic origin is evident. Plato, The Republic.

I guess I had thought it was pretty well known that legislators trade votes and seek favors. Rentseeking has been around for centuries. Ever since James Madison wrote of factions in Federalist #10, we have known that we cannot remove the causes of special interests without removing liberty itself, so we have to control its effects.

Madison wrote, “When a majority is included in a faction, the form of popular government, on the other hand, enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens.” This is the situation in which we find ourselves today. The majority in the Senate prefers to gain control of the health industry, as it would any other if it found a pretense. This is the tyranny of the majority. So why did Madison think this would be nevertheless a good form of government? This is why he preferred a republic to a democracy, because a republic could better infuse the minority position into the legislative process:

In the next place, as each representative will be chosen by a greater number of citizens in the large than in the small republic, it will be more difficult for unworthy candidates to practice with success the vicious arts by which elections are too often carried; and the suffrages of the people being more free, will be more likely to centre in men who possess the most attractive merit and the most diffusive and established characters.

It must be confessed that in this, as in most other cases, there is a mean, on both sides of which inconveniences will be found to lie. By enlarging too much the number of electors, you render the representatives too little acquainted with all their local circumstances and lesser interests; as by reducing it too much, you render him unduly attached to these, and too little fit to comprehend and pursue great and national objects. The federal Constitution forms a happy combination in this respect; the great and aggregate interests being referred to the national, the local and particular to the State legislatures.

That last bit, “State legislatures”, of course refers to the fact that Senators at that time were to be appointed by the state legislatures and not by popular, direct election. It seems highly unlikely that, if they were so elected today, that Sen. Ben Nelson would have an opportunity to be vote #60. But that’s not how we pick them today, even though I believe it means senators do not have enough “acquaintance with all their local circumstances.” A couple of paragraphs later,

It will not be denied that the representation of the Union will be most likely to possess these requisite endowments. Does it consist in the greater security afforded by a greater variety of parties, against the event of any one party being able to outnumber and oppress the rest? In an equal degree does the increased variety of parties comprised within the Union, increase this security. Does it, in fine, consist in the greater obstacles opposed to the concert and accomplishment of the secret wishes of an unjust and interested majority? Here, again, the extent of the Union gives it the most palpable advantage.

Madison clearly understood the ability of legislative leaders to vote-trade, as Harry Reid and Ben Nelson and the rest of the Democrats have now done. I don’t think we should be surprised by it. Colbert King tells us to simply get over it: “My friends, dry your eyes, suck it up, and get on with it.” And truly, Mr. King is right that the temptation to trade votes and to place pork in legislation is a temptation to which their has been bipartisan surrender and failure. This shock that Sen. Nelson has engaged in vote trading is a bit disingenuous. Challenge the constitutionality of the language of Nelson’s bribe, or that of the binding of future Senates not to change the actions of the Independent Medicare Advisory Board. And sure you can point out who got which thirty pieces of silver. But let’s not pretend this doesn’t happen. It is the nature of government to logroll and always has been. (More on this in this post at my blog.) James Joyner concurs:

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t shine a light on these abuses. By all means, we should. But let’s not pretend that they’re a recent invention.

But it would be a good outcome if his most brazen legislative language — how often do we explicitly name the state who gets the goodies? how often do we get a Senate Majority Leader so unashamed that he accuses those who don’t get pork as having failed? at least Dodd had enough shame to drag a stick behind his tracks as he snuck off with $100 million for U Con — reminded our populace of how voting out one set of pork-consumers doesn’t mean you get clean government. Sometimes you get hungrier pork-consumers.

Boettke and Rogers, in a wonderful (and wonderfully thin) volume The Beginners Guide to Liberty (whole thing at that link), remind us of a story:

There is an old tale that many economists use to set up the discussion of how well the market works in comparison to government policy. A Roman Emperor is asked to judge a contest between two singers. After hearing the first contestant sing, the Emperor awards the prize to the second singer under the assumption that surely the second cannot be worse than the first.

The point of the story is that even when markets fail — and the authors acknowledge that they do — governments can fail too. When government failed in the second Bush Administration, people chose a different government. Perhaps next time they’ll realize that when markets fail, the answer is to use markets to solve the failure.

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The point of the story is that even when markets fail — and the authors acknowledge that they do — governments can fail too. When government failed in the second Bush Administration, people chose a different government. Perhaps next time they’ll realize that when markets fail, the answer is to use markets to solve the failure.

Unfortunately, human civilization has devolved. There just are not as many individuals in recent times who even know what “the markets” are or how to use markets to solve anything.

I do think that the process of “earmarks” in legislation has to be changed: specific legislation for specific reasons and no longer the use of the use of legislation to slip in earmarks as now.

What this earmarking process has accomplished is that few in our nation/population today even trust Congress to do anything that is not untoward, sneaky, crooked and otherwise, untrustworthy, so earmarking and the Senators engaging in it have accomplished the further denigration of not only themselves but our form of government.

Lourdes on December 23, 2009 at 12:41 PM

The belief of the liberal/DNC that the people are too stupid to know what’s good for them is partly the driving force behind this health care debacle and the other things being done against the people’s wishes. Their belief that they were elected not to represent the will of the people but to be our overlords is generally a liberal trait. Were this not the case, Congress would not feel nearly as comfortable watching their golden god’s poll numbers plummet.

The problem is, there are so many Americans who are absolutely ignorant of what is going on. For too long the people have chosen to ignore the need to be informed and educated about what Congress and the government is up to. This is thanks to the press, Hollywood, television and even radio on occasion, each of which has informed the people they need not worry because said media lapdogs have our backs.

From the time I was a child, I could clearly see the bias in the media. I remember being angry with the NBC nightly news anchor because he was so snotty about Reagan and Bush and I thought it was wrong. My mom laughed and told me to keep watching. She knew I’d be even more angry as I got older and more informed. She was right. As I grew up, however, I came to realize that anchor’s views were common among the press. For decades the press have been telling certain segments of America what to think, believe, buy, sell and feel. And instead of questioning this, those who are too lazy to fight it simply fall right in line with what they’re told. There are others who were lulled into a false sense of fairness, especially during election 2008. These folks are beginning to wake up now, mentally barefoot and embarrassed, to find they’re standing in front of the rest of the world their jammies wrinkled, hair screwed up and ignorance and ill-informed votes exposed.

In order to fight this Congress, this president and the agenda they’re shoving down our collective throats, someone is going to have to give this segment of the country a giant pep pill, wake up call, Red Bull or something to get them out of their brainless state.

Already this group has allowed the press to dictate when and where 9/11 may be discussed. This group fell right in lock step with the DNC, doing as they were told, casting their votes to put a man barely qualified to run a register at Taco Bell into the White House. And many are still there, poised to simply sit or stand, drooling and vacant, as the government gets their dirty, corrupt, partisan mitts on a HUGE percentage of the American economy.

It’s truly scary to contemplate, but it’s happening right now. It’s as if the zombie apocalypse has already happened, but the zombies, instead of being walking corpses, are Americans whose minds have been wiped out by endless media assertions that Bush is evil, Cheney is Satan and Obama is Jesus returned.

I find myself alternately sad and angry, terrified and REALLY pi$$ed off as each new revelation comes to light. Purchased votes didn’t surprise me, Obama’s lack of transparency and blatant corruptioin didn’t surprise me. What caught me a little off guard was the speed with which many Americans have willingly handed their lives (and their children’s lives and the grandchildren’s lives) over into the hands of people I would not trust the care and feeding of a goldfish.

I pray every day that the people wake up and, as you’ve said above, look to those who really know what they’re about to repair the damage done. Our only hope is to rely on those who have had to work for a living, make a payroll, pitch an idea or otherwise actually created jobs/business rather than spend their time whining about how unfair life is.

Mad Mad Monica on December 24, 2009 at 10:51 AM

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