I am thinking out loud here, and hoping that you will think with me, so we can crowdsource the issue of saving the country.
The problem is pretty clear, don’t you think? Politicians don’t vote in the public’s interest. They vote in their own interest. They want to be re-elected, and the way you do that is to get money. The way you get money is to vote in ways that please the people willing to give you money.
Take something as simple as farm subsidies. Any economist worth his salt will tell you that the free market is the best way to allocate resources and decide how much food to grow and of what type. If you give a farmer a guaranteed amount of money for any particular crop, he will grow as much of it as possible. As he floods the market with more and more of the crop, the price will go down, meaning the difference between what the market demands and what the government promises is bigger — and the more money he makes. So, just as the market is telling him that society needs less of the crop, he is incentivized to grow still more. Then the government will turn around and “fix” that problem by . . . paying him not to grow the crop.
No economist thinks this is a good idea. (Well, maybe Paul Krugman. But no good economist thinks it’s a good idea.) So why do politicians vote for farm subsidies? Because agribusiness pays them to. It’s that simple.
The problem is called “public choice theory” and you can read more about it here, but the essence of the issue is that politicians are human beings, just like everyone else. They may have certain talents, ambitions, and other personality facets that set them apart, but they still tend to respond to incentives the same way other humans do.
We all sit around and decry the way politicians act, but we act as if the solution is to put better politicians in office. It’s not. The system itself is rigged, so that people who truly want to act in the public interest rarely (not never, but very rarely) get into office in the first place. And once they get there, they have to make compromises.
The reflexive view of the left is that we need to “take money out of politics.” Clear-eyed supporters of civil liberties, however, recognize that there is no such thing as taking money out of politics unless you are willing to repeal the First Amendment. Are you willing to tell people they can’t speak in favor of their preferred politician or policy — or that you are going to put restrictions on how effectively they can do so? If so, you are stomping on the First Amendment. If not, then there will always be “money in politics.”
It seems to me, then, that lovers of liberty can do three things, which are not necessarily mutually exclusive:
1) Carve out an area of liberty for themselves, to make themselves less reliant on the government.
2) Preach the word of liberty and the free market loudly and often.
3) Outbid the special interests.
Only #3 is going to have any effect on the government. If the politicians are going to be bought off by special interests, we have to make liberty the biggest and most lucrative special interest of all.
Yes, it seems contradictory to some degree: curbing the growth of government by feeding money to the politicians. But I think it’s the only way to go.
Towards this end, I plan to start giving more money to organizations that fight for liberty: for smaller government and for the free market. I envision an organization that, eventually, can say to a politician (not directly, because that would be bribery!! but rather in the same “legal” way that all other lobbyists communicate): if you vote for farm subsidies, you get nothing from us. If you vote against them, we fund you — and we can pay you more than the farmers will.
I see two questions: 1) can lovers of freedom collect enough money to outbid the special interests, and 2) what organizations existing today best convey this message? What are your favorites? The Heritage Foundation? Someone else? Tell me in the comments what you think.