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Old 10-21-2010, 08:21 PM   #1
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Why special interests control politics

There is a reason for this: A few people who care a lot about something are far more influential than a lot of people who care a little. This is true with a number of major issues including 1) government “glut” and waste 2) unions 3) health care 4) regulation 5) tax breaks 6) affirmative action. Because of what I will call “the law of small numbers” (small numbers of people who care a lot) America’s problem is not that it is “too liberal” or “too conservative” as often stated by people from the opposite party; the problem is that on almost every major issue politicians have a strong incentive to go against the little guy and support the interests of “big government”, “big business”, or any other type of special interest like teacher unions or, etc. From a perspective of looking at liberalism vs. conservatism the effect is that we end being way too left on issues where we should be more conservative (government spending, out of control public sector unions, affirmative action, etc.) and way to right on issues where we should be more progressive! (tax breaks for the wealthy, health care, regulation of wall street, big oil). This is of course gives each side plenty of opportunity to blame “the other guy”.

I will give two examples of how “the law of small numbers” works. The first case is with “big government” and wasteful spending. Take a government job such as ticket collection for public transit. This is a low skill job that in the private sector would probably pay a minimum wage or maybe just a bit more. But in the government these jobs will pay 40-60+ K or more a year in addition to lavish benefits such as retirement pensions! Why? Unions demand it. If politicians try to go against the unions by curtailing some of these benefits or even cutting the work force due to increased automation you will have some deeply affected people who will do everything they can, kicking and screaming like a two year old, to get their way. If the politician holds strong and doesn’t cave in he/she will almost surely loose the support of the “special interest”, that is the government workers and the union. This will cost votes. But will he/she gain votes from the majority of people who will benefit by getting a few bucks back or will have that money better spent? Maybe; but most likely this will go comparatively unnoticed by most people. Think about it: The 50 K /year an employee looses when he looses a job is huge and he is pissed! But when you take that 50K a year, or even multiply it a few times over but then divide it up amongst a large population of tax payers (many tens/hundreds of thousands or even millions) does the average person really stop and think “thank goodness I have that extra $4 dollars after they cut that useless job at the subway station”? Probably not. The same way if everyone but one person in America woke up one morning and had an extra few cents in their Bank account while that one person lost their entire life savings to pay for everyone else’s extra few cents - who is going to notice? That one person who looses everything (most definitely) or everyone else who gets a few cents (probably not). This is an extreme example of how the law of small numbers works when it comes to the allocation of wealth.

The next example is with tax breaks for the wealthy. Following the Bush tax cuts, America’s richest families annual after tax income increased by tens, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Who wouldn’t fight for something like that if they thought they could win?! (which they did) That’s a lot more money! And why do the rest of us (even some centrists/liberals) just accept it? A lot of that money comes out of public services we all use. The answer is it just doesn’t feel like that big of a loss to most. First, the loss is shared over a much larger group than the gain is. Second, people don’t make a conscious connection in their daily lives where they are thinking “Oh gee, I’m now paying x amount more (say maybe $50 or whatever) so my kid can play high school sports since now the schools have less money due to it going to the rich.” The details of these very real connections get lost in the chaos of life and for this reason the rest of us, while we care at least a little bit (liberals especially of course), don’t care enough to really do anything about it. A similar incentive to the fist case is created with politicians: If they go against the “special interest”, in this case upper class, they are sure to loose votes as this issue of taxes is near and dear to them since they of course have a huge stake in it; but if they go against everyone else it is not likely too hurt too much since this is just one of many issues on most people’s radar screen and they don‘t care as much. Since most people don’t have such a huge stake in the game and don’t care that much, it also makes it easy to convince them that the tax breaks are in fact good for them, even if lets say they are not, since they don’t care enough to really investigate the validity of supply side economic theory.

After taking multiple hits from both sides (left and right) the average Joe, who is not a member of a special interest, becomes lost as to where the real problem is. Each issue on its own doesn’t take that much from him, and as said he isn’t consciously aware of each dollar loss as it goes from him to a special interest, but collectively they add up and the working and middle class never get ahead. Their anger is fuelled only in a very broad sense at “the system” but not enough passion is held on any specific issue to actually force a change.

Anyway, that’s it for now. Sorry this is so long. Could have been a lot longer actually but I’ll save it for if this gets a discussion / debate going!
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Old 10-21-2010, 08:27 PM   #2
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that's a lot to read for me right now

but a lot of people that care a little are useless, because they won't and don't vote

the few people that care a lot, matter more

there is the small core of independents (and they can be registered GOP or Dem, too) that tend to vote and switch from one party to the other, depending on the state of events.

they are the ones that matter most
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Old 10-22-2010, 01:43 PM   #3
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that's a lot to read for me right now

but a lot of people that care a little are useless, because they won't and don't vote

the few people that care a lot, matter more

there is the small core of independents (and they can be registered GOP or Dem, too) that tend to vote and switch from one party to the other, depending on the state of events.

they are the ones that matter most
My points exactly...of the large group who only cares somewhat about an issue(s), a lot of them don't care enough to even vote. While you can bet the smaller group who has a much larger per/capita stake in how their major issue (special interest) plays out WILL vote!
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Old 10-22-2010, 07:11 PM   #4
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as long as i have my american idol to watch and my cnn/fox news to feed me tidbits of info, i'm good to go.
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Old 10-24-2010, 07:20 PM   #5
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as long as i have my american idol to watch and my cnn/fox news to feed me tidbits of info, i'm good to go.
That attitude is just the problem I am talking about among the general population. You are ok with some people (special interests) taking money from you that they didn't rightfully earn as long as you still have these things?
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Old 10-24-2010, 07:32 PM   #6
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That attitude is just the problem I am talking about among the general population. You are ok with some people (special interests) taking money from you that they didn't rightfully earn as long as you still have these things?
i actually agree with everything you said.

i was just posting something a member of the general population would say in a smartass context. some might call it irony, or sarcasm.
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Old 10-24-2010, 07:48 PM   #7
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After taking multiple hits from both sides (left and right) the average Joe, who is not a member of a special interest, becomes lost as to where the real problem is. Each issue on its own doesn’t take that much from him, and as said he isn’t consciously aware of each dollar loss as it goes from him to a special interest, but collectively they add up and the working and middle class never get ahead. Their anger is fuelled only in a very broad sense at “the system” but not enough passion is held on any specific issue to actually force a change.
Agreed and the Tea Party is the perfect example of the resultant unfocussed anger.

However, I would go even further. I have a fervent dislike for class politics on principle but the reality is the middle and working classes have been taking it up the *** for years and the ruling class, the top 1 or 2% are getting richer.

In the US, we have seen a two term President who, by an amazing coincidence, was the son of a former President. In a country of 300 million people, how amazing is that. It's like if Picasso's son also turned out to be one of the most talented artists in history.

It's bullshit, basically. The US is no democracy, not even close. I'm not saying Europe is much better.

Interestingly, though, history seems to demonstrate that revolutions generally emanate not from the poor and oppressed but from the educated middle class.
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Old 10-25-2010, 01:51 AM   #8
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I have a fervent dislike for class politics on principle but the reality is the middle and working classes have been taking it up the *** for years and the ruling class, the top 1 or 2% are getting richer.
Damn straight . Excellent post.

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Interestingly, though, history seems to demonstrate that revolutions generally emanate not from the poor and oppressed but from the educated middle class.
Indeed. Which begs the question, how and when will this revolution come, if it does? The obvious answer is to start fighting for campaign finance reform and fixing the issues surrounding that topic, but what would be the best way to actually get some genuine interest, some genuine action going to get that done?

(Edited to add: I think this could well possibly be a thread where, save for people playing devil's advocate, we'd get agreement across the board! Woo! That's a first step in the right direction right there)

Angela
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Old 10-25-2010, 07:50 AM   #9
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OP reminded me immediately of Naked Economics, one of those Freakonomics-esque reads. Good book. Anyone looking for examples of special interests need only look to the farm lobby in the United States.

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The Tea Party may have started out as 'unfocused anger', but at this point it's been infiltrated by big money and Republican Party operatives.
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Old 10-25-2010, 09:21 AM   #10
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OP reminded me immediately of Naked Economics, one of those Freakonomics-esque reads. Good book. Anyone looking for examples of special interests need only look to the farm lobby in the United States.

~

The Tea Party may have started out as 'unfocused anger', but at this point it's been infiltrated by big money and Republican Party operatives.
actually the tea party started out fairly focused as to what they were against, then it devolved into unfocused anger, which has since been prostituted by the far right and their big money.
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Old 10-25-2010, 09:45 AM   #11
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Agreed and the Tea Party is the perfect example of the resultant unfocussed anger.

However, I would go even further. I have a fervent dislike for class politics on principle but the reality is the middle and working classes have been taking it up the *** for years and the ruling class, the top 1 or 2% are getting richer.

In the US, we have seen a two term President who, by an amazing coincidence, was the son of a former President. In a country of 300 million people, how amazing is that. It's like if Picasso's son also turned out to be one of the most talented artists in history.

It's bullshit, basically. The US is no democracy, not even close. I'm not saying Europe is much better.

Interestingly, though, history seems to demonstrate that revolutions generally emanate not from the poor and oppressed but from the educated middle class.
So why are you a conservative? I know the liberals are not perfect, as I have indicated in my post, but the conservatives are a lot worse.
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Old 10-25-2010, 10:29 AM   #12
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So why are you a conservative? I know the liberals are not perfect, as I have indicated in my post, but the conservatives are a lot worse.
Is financeguy really a conservative? I thought he had some conservative leanings, which is fine. I don't think labeling people one way or the other is a good idea when really everyone is a shade of grey (except <> who is always right).

Let's as financeguy: Financeguy, do u consider yourself a conservative? If so, and why?
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Old 10-25-2010, 11:31 AM   #13
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So why are you a conservative? I know the liberals are not perfect, as I have indicated in my post, but the conservatives are a lot worse.
if we'd only learn that they're both a bunch of douchebags we'd be a lot better off.
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Old 10-25-2010, 03:38 PM   #14
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After taking multiple hits from both sides
What are these sides you speak of? I'll have fries, thank you.

There are two sides, my side and the outside.

Outside is the side I choose.
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Old 10-25-2010, 06:43 PM   #15
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Is financeguy really a conservative? I thought he had some conservative leanings, which is fine. I don't think labeling people one way or the other is a good idea when really everyone is a shade of grey (except <> who is always right).

Let's as financeguy: Financeguy, do u consider yourself a conservative? If so, and why?
In answer to your question, yes, I still consider myself a traditional Old Right, anti-neo con, classical liberal type of conservative. I see what is presented as modern day "conservatism" as having nothing got to do with traditional conservatism as I define it.
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