Friday, November 11, 2011

Money and Politics

Here in Washington state we recently had a ballot initiative to end the state monopoly on liquor sales. While I am not sure if it will do good or harm (and am not prepared to go into that at the moment) the measure passed, perhaps in part because of the massive amount of money spent by various retailers to influence the public. While such use of money may be argued to be unseemly from a purely moralistic point of view, I cannot join in the collective outrage that some feel in this particular instance.

In the case of direct democracy, where each vote cast is a direct proportion to public sentiment, governance by may be truly be said to such as the people deserve, and as the majority believe right. So long as no individual's rights are denied by means of this collective action, the objection to monies being spent to influence the public mind to that extent that they allow themselves to be so influenced, seems to fall flat.

The matter of representative democracy is another matter entirely. That intermediary between the people, and the laws that govern them, can not be said to be a direct measurement of their sentiment, or subject to the influence of money in a manner that could be remotely described as simple. When the coercive force of either the favor of monied influence on the one hand, or of the unmitigated destruction of reputation on the other, there is no possibility that the public servant who is subject to the unregulated influence of monied interests can serve the interests of a the remaining majority of constituents with any significant degree of faithfulness.

But in treating all influence of money in politics equally, we allow this obvious maxim to go unnoticed. And in our haste to knee-jerk reaction to what we may find distasteful, we miss a fine opportunity to explain the obvious maxim, by means of showing this glaring distinction, to those who wish to label us hypocrites

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"Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people; and not for the profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men: Therefore the people alone have an incontestible unalienable, and indefeasible right to institute government; and to reform, alter, or totally change the same, when their protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness require it." -- Constitution of Massachusettes (1780)