What’s Wrong, and How to Fix It, Part 4, Television and Politics
Published on: November 2, 2012
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  • Anthony

    Because it is almost entirely the affluent that put up party (candidate) campaign funds, one can infer that both the Republican and Democratic parties are (basically and primarily) the parties of the propertied classes; much is at stake in public policy that will be made by officeholders – who will pay more of the taxes in an increasingly welfare-warfare state, who will get contracts, exemptions, etc. Essentially, we are facets of a plutocratic culture socialized via institutions, values, and ideologies (“places where positive change would resonate throughout our political culture”). Consequently, the principle of subsidiarity (nothing should be done by a larger more complex organization which can be done as well by a smaller and simple organization) though touted finds itself attenuated in a diverse American landscape.

    Similarly,the implied social trust endemic to subsidiarity is challenged by indiviualism and the inherent desire to maintain or further one’s position within the social hierarchy thereby committing to hierarchy’s perservation wittingly or unwittingly. Your essay implies that Americans can no longer afford the scarcity psychology and by implication the exclusion of others to our own common detriment. As far as that goes, I concur and think television and politics are only the beginning in truely assessing the cultural apparatus.

  • Anthony

    Truly, Skinnerian welfare meliorist methodology and neo Social Darwinism encapsulate your 1965/1925 reference – yet both would claim lineage to Burkean traditions.

  • John Barker

    I just read in Sunday’s paper in the small western city where I live, some $30 million has been spent on TV ads this year, about hundred dollars per person. I will try to figure out how much per vote later.

  • Nonsense! The issue isn’t the medium or the message, it’s the uninformed receiver. Should newspapers have been censored in post-revolutionary America, when Adams’ ads proclaimed the country would be overrun with “murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest”? If my vote could be won via television advertising, then I should be condemned to do all my shopping on HSN, and only purchase products with clever slogans and nifty jingles. I have more faith in American voters, apparently, than the author.

  • guydreaux

    Your intentions are good and your passion is evident but you are trying to impose solutions that are not practicable and will have undesirable effects (your intervention essentially puts a finger on the scale- e.g., who gets to chose which minor parties are important and get air time?).

    Also, who determines “social capital”? And if politics always supercedes economics (and by this I think you necessarily mean property rights and free decision making around who much and what to produce and what price to sell it for is handed to politicians)then by definition there is no rule of law in the economy. Politicians (who can be bought) will have more power, they will create family dynasties that control industries and dispense favours to their family, the connected and to powerful corporations. What makes you think that a politican with the power to control the economy will make decisions with “social capital” in mind rather than vote buying or personal enrichment?

    There is no history anywhere of that happening for any material period of time (e.g. more than a few years)

    Also- I hope you realize that the concept of “the airwaves” as auctionable space is irrelevant in the age of the internet and was even irrelevant decades ago as soon as content providers could pipe content directly to cable TV providers.

    If you want more airtime for fringe parties and “public service” announcements then I suggest you get it the old fashioned way- buy it. There are many billionaire tycoons who agree with you and there is nothing to stop you from a media buy. You may have noticed that a dozen cable channels run cheesy infomercials on Saturday mornings. Buy half a dozen slots and give some fringe candidates airtime every saturday. If it catches on and gains viewership the cable channels will start offering that program themselves. The first response of an autocrat is that if they can’t make people care then they want to force people to pay attention (and certainly you are going down that path). Instead, why don’t you use your own money to try to entice people to care rather than imagining that, once you give pols the power to impose all of these choices on people, that they’ll make the choices you want? You’d have to be very foolish to believe that giving pols more power is going to result in decisions you favour, unless you and like thinkers believe you can seize the reins permanently.

    A mayor Bloomberg can ban 20oz sodas on a whim, but what is to stop the next mayor from banning homeopathic medicines or biodynamic foods as a fraud and huge waste of money?

    There is a huge body of evidence showing that giving pols more power to impose media content and economic decisions on the populace results in corruption and despotism.
    Essentially this has been the course of human history for thousands of years.

    On the other hand, we have perhaps 300 years of history of free markets, free trade and individual property rights in a global capitalist system that has lifted much of the world out of poverty in the traditional sense (i.e. of not being able to feed or clothe oneself).

    There is always a tension between government and free enterprise. For every trust buster and Teddy Roosevelt there is a Luddite (or the economically naive like President Obama with a static view, who believe ATM machines have hurt employment rather then dynamically redistributed consumption and investment spending, in turn creating new economic and employment opportunities elsewhere). What makes you think a Teddy Roosevelt is going to be in charge instead of a Luddite?

    Were were really better off when we all had to till the fields as serfs? If not, at which point in the 200-300 year history of capitalism should we have hired a benevolent dictator to decide on “social capital” decisions and what would have been the result? Spend some time backtesting your model before advocating it.

    For myself I can see dozens of examples in history where governments have tried to control information and the economy for the “Social good” and not much good has ever come out of it.

  • PopConservative

    There’s another way….. More elegant the more you think about it.

    The manner as to how it would be accomplished is open for debate, but conceptually, I think it’s pretty strong.

    Firstly, addressing the way we think about some of these terms-

    “Change” often happens very quickly.

    The seemingly intractable “Problems” everyone points to are not problems but rather characteristics of a given equilibrium.

    Forces out of balance produce change. Those more or less in balance stick around a while, perhaps appearing chronic.

    The amount of money in politics has changed. No argument there. But as the author above points out, the path to a politician’s success has remained the same- more money than the other guy, but only in relative terms. The price tag can change up or down, but 51% wins an election. That’s the constant; money is a matter of degrees.

    The issue isn’t money. It’s Centralization. Money is actually the way you solve the problem. (And Centralization adequately describes the problem we’re really hacking at- the failure of representative government to actually represent the constituent.)

    If we seek to eliminate money, we’re lead to schemes of ever increasing complexity, rigidity and, at the end of the day, most likely increased Central power.

    The solution is to disadvantage the “Center” in favor of the periphery or margin.

    The limiting factor is actually the politician- the politician’s physical self. There is one seat to be filled by one body. That’s what can be regulated most discreetly.

    Legislators should be disadvantaged while in Washington, away from their constituents. The disadvantage should be in raising funds (which is the opposite of what is now occurring).

    We should resolve that a Legislator could only accept, book, or receive contributions while their physical person is within the State they represent. Simple. And let whatever contortions they attempt to get around this rule be their business.

    At the end of the day, whenever the Legislator is out of state, they are at a disadvantage to a challenger that is not.

    Furthermore, we raise the administrative overhead of lobbying one size fits all agendas by a factor of at least what, 26? No longer is it all done in Washington. If an interest group wants to buy a majority of support, they need to be operative at the state level.

    I suspect we’d also solve the issue of term limits, without nasty consequences like a term limited Legislator with nothing to gain nor nothing to lose.

    A solution to the money-in-politics “problem” need only influence the existing equilibrium. Keep it simple. Then time should be allowed for a new equilibrium to express itself, most likely in terms of what “problems” appear insurmountable.

  • Bob Damico

    The answer is as simple as stopping what the politicians have to sell to the monied interests, which is more government. Stop trying to manipulate behavior through the tax system and lower the rates. It’s all about freedom.

  • GaryP

    The underlying premise of this article, that government could be made more benign, even a force for social good, if only the distorting force of money could be removed from the electoral process shows that you have no understanding of political reality.
    Government, in all its forms, is simply a means for one part of society, the ruling class, to control and exploit the remainder of society using force or threat of force.
    Each government rests on a power base, traditionally either the patricians or the plebeians but with the growth of a market economy, including a third group, midway in wealth between the aristos and the mob (called, very imaginatively, the middle class).
    Every government rules by playing off these two (or sometimes three) groups with the single goal of maintaining power (and the resulting self-enrichment) for the ruling class. Elections, in a democracy, are simply the struggle between factions in the ruling class for the right to enrich themselves by graft and insider trading. Patronage and governmental largess are used to reward whatever group is perceived to be the source of the most essential support. This is probably why our nation was founded as a Republic with an elected executive and lower House, an upper house appointed by the regional aristos, and an powerful judiciary appointed for life, supposedly immune to pressure from the ruling group of the moment. The government was purposely designed to be weak to protect the middle class (who did not have the leisure or inclination to form a professional ruling class) from the wealthy and the mob that had historically made up, or been manipulated by, the ruling class.
    License to exploit the mob via slavery or serfdom while profiting from graft was the traditional reward to the patricians. Bread and circuses was the ‘sweetener’ for the mob. The middle class, having evolved in and from a market economy was primarily interested in a rule of law (to allow them to transact business predictably, i.e. protect them from the aristos), order (to protect them and their possessions from the mob since they could not afford armed retainers like the aristos), and minimal government because they knew that had too little to allow them to evade taxes (like the aristos) and enough to made them worth shaking down (unlike the mob). I think that what was not foreseen was the future co opting of the middle class into being the functionaries of an all consuming government.
    Even our sainted founding fathers (while notably superior to most rulers) were not immune to the defects of all ruling classes. However, the minimalist nature of the early Federal government reduced the incentive to develop a professional ruling class as there was so little to steal when the government controlled so few resources. Moreover, since the early government of the US was founded by and primarily for, the relatively new middle class, their needs formed the bedrock principles of our early government. One notable exception was the reluctant acceptance of slavery to get the quasi-aristos (primarily in the South) to join.
    Patronage was limited (the Postal Service, the military, and the diplomatic service were the principle venues, along with grants of land on the frontier) because government was purposely small, to suit the primary supporters (and source) of the amateur ruling class. Few people made a career of government because it was too small to be lucrative for a large, professional ruling class.
    As the society evolved from one where money and power was disbursed among myriad small business owners (such as Franklin) and small-medium farmers (such as Washington) toward big business, the needs of the new patricians (big businessmen) became dominant in the government and lead to triumph of this new power group over the old aristos of the South in the Civil War (resulting in the Tariffs of 1861 and following years) to protect industrial magnates at the expense of commodity magnates.
    In opposition to the rulers owned by the business aristos of the Gilded Age, the champions (and manipulators) of the middle class introduced the Progressive Era around 1900. As it became possible to better mobilize the mob with the advent of universal literacy, a new ruling class, supported by and controlling the mob using bread and circuses, developed in the New Deal era.
    However, in the last fifty years, a ruling class has grown up that has squared the circle by showering largess on all three classes. The business elites are rewarded by the growth of the financial sector that has exploded to manage wealth created by a debt based economy encouraged by tax deductions, reckless lending and socialization of bank losses (as well as issuance of enormous amounts of government debt). The middle class has been seduced by the prospect of government jobs and subsidized education to qualify their scions for same. The mob has been bought off with free ‘stuff’ and promises of ever increasing ‘entitlements’ (i.e. their due, not charity).
    As the government grew in power and wealth, the professional ruling class grew with it. Now large numbers of people spend their entire working life in government or quasi-government jobs, a career path virtually impossible in the early years of the Republic. Not only did patronage mean that almost the entire government work force turned over after every regime change, there was just so little money in the federal government that the amounts available for graft were too small to make it worthwhile. Of course, both of these conditions no longer apply. The only problem is that the ruling class has promised more than it can deliver. You cannot buy off everyone forever as there is not enough wealth in the country (or any country).
    The result will be collapse and a return to a more traditional government based on the support of either the patricians or the plebs as the middle class is basically a spent force as it primarily exists now as drones dependent either on big business or big government. Therefore, it will virtually disappear with in the collapse of both. Already, the decline of the middle class outside of the dependents of big business or big government is noted, but not understood.
    At the founding of our Republic, the main goal of the middle class was to be minimally robbed by government and left alone to go about their business. Now they are as dependent as the plebeians on government programs.
    The past and future of our government in one (relatively) short and easy lesson. By necessity this was only the broad stokes and basically ignores local government which was always much more important to the average person’s life than the Feds (State government lay in between in importance) until the big government era.
    The fact that we can not imagine dealing with our social problems without reforming the federal government tells us how distorted our system of governance has become. Government, to simplify a complex subject, cannot be reformed. It can only be shrunk. Government may be more or less oppressive and extortive but by it’s very nature, these are its main characteristics. That is not to say government is not a necessary evil but the only better government is a smaller government. We have, as a society, lost this understanding of the essential nature of big government, one, I think, well grasped by our founding fathers. Therefore, we are destined to always fail as we try to arrest or reverse the decline of our society. The tool considered essential to our salvation, government, is only effective at hastening our destruction.

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