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Monday, January 6, 2014

Lobbyists -- the Ultimate Skimmers

It's probably been more than a year since I blogged about "skimmers" -- people who get rich in ways that typically benefit only themselves.  This was mainly in response to the Republican line that people who make a lot of money shouldn't be taxed because they are out there creating new products and jobs, etc.  My point was simply that that's a very small minority of rich people, and I did some work to show that with a few entrepreneurial exceptions, most high income people are simply skimmers -- people who are in the vicinity of large cash flows, and are able to grab a bit of it for themselves.  These people aren't typically making the world a better place; indeed, they are usually making it worse -- often they are rewarded for anti-social innovations like how to get consumers to pay more for less, how to help rich people reduce their taxes, etc., etc.

 I don't remember if I singled out lobbyists specifically -- as you'll see if you google for those posts (pricefixer skimmer) -- I feel that a lot high-income people meet this description.  But sure, lobbyists are one of the prime examples of people who get rich by doing things that the rest of us have every right to resent -- selling their government connections (gained while in so-called "public service) to the highest bidder.  Charles Lane in today's post has a good piece on this obvious problem:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/charles-lane-washington-cashes-in-on-connections/2014/01/06/2323019e-76f5-11e3-b1c5-739e63e9c9a7_story.html?algtrack=mixedrec-3&tid=btm_rex_3

He ends the piece like this, which pretty much sums up what I've been trying to say about skimmers:  "Instead of worrying about how much money rich people make, we should focus more on how they make it."

While on this topic, I should mention Peter Schweitzer's book "Extortion."  The basic theme is that really, it's not just lobbyists using their connections to politicians to get the politicians to vote the way they want.  In fact, more often it's the other way around -- the politicians calling and threatening the lobbyists that they will only vote the "right" way if the campaign cash comes through.  Sickening.

And my final thought for today:  Really, politicians benefited greatly from the Red Menace in that they could always say you don't want the country to fall into the wrong hands.  At that time, the obvious example of why communism didn't work -- and why we didn't want something like that here -- was the USSR.  But as we move further and further away in time from that worry, perhaps people -- a new generation that has not experienced the alternatives -- will start wondering, again, if our form of government really is the best.  We know it's the best money can buy, but does that really mean it's the one we the people want and deserve?

If there is a communist takeover, at least it won't have been sponsored by a corrupt totalitarian state like the former Soviet Union, but will instead (perhaps) be fomented and brought about by people who truly want what's best for the United States.  I'm not advocating that -- and I'm certainly not advocating communism as a model for economic success -- I'm just saying that at a certain point, our politicians might well receive a signal that it's time for them to clean up their act.  And maybe when that happens, we'll start getting truly civic-minded people to become politicians.

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