The economist Walter E. Williams has a column dated January 18, 2006, that places the current lobbying scandal in proper perspective.
(We should caution Democrats against overindulging in schadenfreude [enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others] at this time. Democrats took money from Jack Abramoff too, and if there were more Democrats in positions of power, you can be sure there would be more money given to Democrats.)
Professor Williams explains to us that given the “awesome growth of government control over business, property, employment and other areas of our lives” Washington politicians (and I would add state and local politicians too) are in the position to grant valuable favors. “The greater their power to grant favors, the greater the value of being able to influence Congress, and there’s no better influence than money.”
Continuing: “The generic favor sought is to get Congress, under one ruse or another, to grant a privilege or right to one group of Americans that will be denied another group of Americans. A variant of this privilege is to get Congress to do something that would be criminal if done privately.”
“Here’s just one among possibly thousands of examples. If Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) used goons and violence to stop people from buying sugar from Caribbean producers so that sugar prices would rise, making it easier for ADM to sell more of its corn syrup sweetener, they’d wind up in jail. If they line the coffers of congressmen, they can buy the same result without risking imprisonment. Congress simply does the dirty work for them by enacting sugar import quotas and tariffs. The two most powerful committees of Congress are the House Ways and Means and the Senate Finance committees. These committees are in charge of granting tax favors. Their members are besieged with campaign contributions. Why? A tweak here and a tweak there in the tax code can mean millions of dollars.”
What is the solution? I believe, and I know Dr. Williams does too, that we should reduce the power that government has over our lives. I believe we should rely more on free markets for solutions to problems, as these markets are composed of people voluntarily entering into transactions, rather than a coercive government forcing decisions on us based on who lobbied the hardest. Dr. Williams also relates this story and solution: “Nearly two decades ago, during dinner with the late Nobel Laureate Friedrich Hayek, I asked him if he had the power to write one law that would get government out of our lives, what would that law be? Professor Hayek replied he’d write a law that read: Whatever Congress does for one American it must do for all Americans.”
Hayek also wrote in his book The Road to Serfdom: “As the coercive power of the state will alone decide who is to have what, the only power worth having will be a share in the exercise of this directing power.” We are well down this road, where government becomes more important than liberty and individuality. This is the battle we need to fight. Lobbying scandals are just a symptom and manifestation of the larger problem.