July 22, 2014

THE MOTHER’S MILK OF POLITICS: Money Still Fuels The Political Machine.

In despair over money’s influence in politics, progressives have fitfully embraced plans for public financing of campaigns. Via Tyler Cowen, I see that a new paper from Andrew Hall explores the effects of these sorts of programs.

First, the good news: Public campaign funding would probably reduce the influence of “access-oriented interest groups,” which are made up of well-financed power players who use their campaign donations to get the ear of candidates. It would also reduce the bias toward incumbents, which I guess can be good or bad depending on how you feel about your local congressman.

Now, the bad news: That doesn’t necessarily lead to better political outcomes. When the money goes away, the candidates who are elected tend to be more partisan and divided. “Good government” may mean “more extreme government” — which, at least at the national level, may mean “government that can’t get anything done.”

This makes a certain amount of sense, when you think about it. Access-oriented groups care about getting things done. I may think that a lot of this stuff shouldn’t be done, and I’m sure you agree (though perhaps we are thinking of different stuff). But fundamentally, access-oriented groups are less interested in making emotive statements about free markets, sexual liberty, respect for immigrants or whatever you care to name than they are about getting actual laws passed. That gives them an incentive to favor candidates who will give them legislative results rather than the moral satisfaction of sticking to their principles.

The average voter — in particular, the average primary voter — cares a lot about moral purity and expressive politics. So if you disempower the money, you empower the ideological purists who want candidates first and foremost to demonstrate fidelity to shared principles.

Yeah, I think corruption will still find a way.