Friday, August 18, 2006


Am I the Only One?

Am I the only one that supports a full blown allowance on financial contributions to the political process. I am aware of the support for limited and even publicly provided financial contributions to the political process, but I have yet to find anyone that agrees with me.

I say, let people spend their money as they see fit, let the politicians accept money of any kind, and let them be ultimately responsible for what and how much they accept.

Current incentives dictate to accept limited amounts and hide the rest if possible. My alternative would give these individuals the incentive to collect as much funds as possible, but be more aware of the individuals behind the gifts.

It's a thought...

Totally agree. Campaign Finance "Reform" is a joke. And worse, it's a blatant and unpardonable attack on free speech.
I haven't spent much time on it, but I agree with you. Even if some people don't like seeing "the almighty dollar" affect elections, every alternative is ridiculous.

Should we also cap political favors and volunteer work-hours? Do we already? This topic blows my mind. Handicapping good looks and "smoothness" is another option we should look into.
Am I the only one worried about a potential increase in rent seeking?

When you say "unlimited contributions from anyone", I hear "increased probability of higher tariffs to protect companies that make big contributions." Or any number of other government perks.

Personally, I think we face a trade-off between freedom of speech and freedom of trade on this issue.
Absolutely. My only concern is that throwing money at government is problematic for all of us.

I do not see how it could really be much worse than the current structure though, since they still have to be elected by majority (plurality) vote.
Here we go again...


What would you propose, then? A cap? On what? How do you begin to set such a thing and whose interests do you balance?
I'm all for unlimited contributions. The problem isn't the money, it is the limits on government.
I think it parallels the "Who should vote" issue Bastiat talks about in the Law.

I don't know what the best alternative would be. Like you, I havn't spent much time on the issue.

Maybe Chris might be right. After we weigh all the costs and benefits of each alternative the best solution might be no limits.

But we have to realize that there are potential costs to not having limits.

Framing the issue as being exclusivley about freedom of speech may sound nice, but i don't think it is appropriate.
"After we weigh all the costs and benefits of each alternative the best solution might be no limits."


I still have trouble with your use of the idea of a cost-benefit analysis. What is "best"? If the (poorly estimated) costs to you are just slightly lower than the (poorly estimated) benefits to someone else, is that best? This goes back to the interpersonal utility comparisons that I thought we agreed were both impossible and harmful if attempted from a policy standpoint.

For once, I agree completely with Juris on this (I usually agree when someone brings up one of Bastiat's points). Voting wouldn't be important if governement were limited to only protect life, liberty, and property. It's the hand-outs, legal barriers and tariff/subsidies that everyone votes for.
Then don't think about costs or beneifts.

Think about how your "right" to trade freely will more likley be infringed as a result of unlimited campaign contibutions.

Are you REALLY not concerned about rent seeking? explain.
Please go back and read Bastiat's "The Law":

"If the law were confined to its proper functions (protecting all persons, all liberties, and all properties), everyone's interest in the law would be the same. Is it not clear that, under these circumstances, those who voted could not inconvenience those who did not vote?"

I'm simply saying that the answer is to strike the power to levy tariffs from the law.

If you were dictator, you could make all kinds of changes to our laws to make my concerns moot. But that isn't the world we live in.

As Jenna pointed out when I questioned her reasoning behind her support for ANWR drilling (a less than ideal policy to support for a libertarian)-- the choice we face isn't between the government we have on one hand and the ideal goverment we wished we had on the other; our choice only concerns an incremental change in the way THIS government is run.

Now, you really have to ask yourself, do you think the additional reforms you suggest (removing the federal governments to impost trade barriers) will be MORE likley to be accepted a a result of unlimited campagn contributions or LESS likley?

I tend toward the later. Politicians and lobbyists, like everyone else, respond to incentives. If we make it easier for politicans to trade politial favors for campaign contributions, chances are, they will trade MORE favors.

If anything, you've only pointed out an additional unintended consequence of campaign finance reform. Not only will unlimited contributions make it easier for politians to dole out favors, but it will also make it MORE difficult to institute libertarian reforms.

We should all remember that Hazlitt's lesson of unintended consequences didn't just apply to liberal programs of expanding government. Incentives are just as important for libertarian reforms.
Dr. Richard Ebeling at FEE was responding to a line of reasoning similar to the discussion here. His comment was that libertarians aren't ready for politics yet.
We are still trying to understand the ideal. Travis and I have been "staring at the sun" - trying to imagine the perfect world. I have told many people that my ideas are completely impractical. Which is convenient because they are also completely unpopular.
Student, it seems you are looking at what is practical - what can actually be done. Which is merely a different perspective on the same issues.
Really, we have two seperate conversations: what SHOULD be, and what COULD be.
For now, I find the should discussion more important because I'm still figuring it out. Maybe later I'll be more interested in the could discussion.
I think there might be a greater incentive for people to pay attention to where the money is coming from. And in the longer run, politicians would have to be more careful with accepting funds and returning the particular "favor". Now it is pretty much invisible, except for some types of funds above a certain amount.

The short-run may create a great deal of what you are talking about, but I think the long-run would have much the opposite effect.
"Gradualism in theory is perpetuity in practice."
-William Lloyd Garrison

Rothbard referring to and quoting Garrison:
"His goal was the proper moral and libertarian one, and was unrelated to the “realism,” or probability of its achievement. Indeed, Garrison’s strategic realism was expressed by the fact that he did not expect the end of slavery to arrive immediately or at a single blow. As Garrison carefully distinguished: “Urge immediate abolition as earnestly as we may, it will, alas! be gradual abolition in the end. We have never said that slavery would be overthrown by a single blow; that it ought to be, we shall always contend.”"

I thought this was brilliant. As long as people think it can't happen, then it will never happen. My job is to get people to think that it can.

Then limiting campaign contributions would seem to fit best with your goal of freeing Americans from the slavery of the state(?).

A system of unlimited contributions would only provide politicans with worth incentives and make instituting further reforms more difficult.

I don't have the same faith that Chris does that simply making things more transparent will solve rent-seeking problems. After all, most of the sources for campaign funds are already disclosed (I *think* it's anything over $200, but i'll have to check). And there are plenty of people already looking at who pays who.

Are these watch-dog groups very effective? I don't know. Ask the sugar lobbey.
You missed the point. The clearer parallel is to say that both slavery and tariffs are immoral. As soon as we can convince people of that, they will go away (slavery already has gone away in most of the world, as far as I know).

Therefore, this roundabout way to maybe decrease the incentives for instituting tariffs is beside the point. Remember, there were powerful incentives to have slaves and to keep slavery legal, too.

It was the people who changed how people thought about slavery and who showed it to be morally wrong who "fit best with [my] goal of freeing Americans...."

So the same with tariffs and everything else that can be shown to be morally wrong.

I also miss the connection between convincing people that tariffs are wrong and the proposition of campaign finance reform.

Both might be worthy goals and both might fit together in the way you think things should be, but I don't see how one leads to the other.

The issue before us is whether we should have unlimited contributions or not. And given the fact that most politicians DON'T agree with us that trade restrictions are wrong, I don't feel comfortable removing all the restrictions on campaign contribution.

But hey, it's all in good humor. Besides, you can't tell me my argument isn't fun. :) I used traditional economic and libertarian talking points ("incentives matter" and "big government sucks") to arrive at an argument for government regulation.

Don't tell me I'm the only one that gets a kick out of paradox and uncomfortable conclusions.
Ok Student has finally lost his mind. It was you, Student, who first made the connection between campaign finance reform and tariffs:
"When you say "unlimited contributions from anyone", I hear "increased probability of higher tariffs to protect companies that make big contributions." Or any number of other government perks."

And you must be having an "off day" to have missed the parallel with slavery. If people realized that tariffs are immoral, they would no longer stand to have anything but abolitionist politicians in office (abolishing tariffs, that is). The same death came of slavery as I'm trying to bring to tariffs, among other immoral intrusions on people's lives.

To me, you tend to assume things are fixed and to think in the very short run. I think in the very long run and I see basically everything as variable. That includes the general opinion of politicians as well as eveyone with eyes or ears.

Where is all this tension coming from?

Obviously, I didn’t articulate my question well. So allow me to restate it:

"How will allowing unlimited contributions help you convince politicians to go free trade? If it wont, then what's your point?"

Of course, this question is only relevant if we're still talking about the impacts of campaign finance reform. I think I'm realizing that what we're really talking about is what your ideal government would look like.

But moving along, what makes you think my argument only concerns the short term? My argument states that unlimited contributions will lead to more political favors in the short run and that will make libertarian reforms more difficult to implement in the long run. What am I doing wrong?

True. I am not pretending that a silver-tounged angel will come out of the sky to convince politicians to abandon their statist ways. But should I really make an assumption like that when evaluating a SINGLE policy perscription?


Now I am trying keep this mellow. I was even trying to be funny in my last post (trying being the key word I guess). So let's step back.

I think our real problem here is that we're talking about different things. I am talking exclusively about the short and long run impacts of campaign finance reform.

You seem to be talking about what would have to happen for your favored campaigned finance program to work and then calling that the "long run".

It's two discussions worth having, but let's be clear about which topic we're discussing.

So let's cool down and not get emotional over something silly. :)

Besides, If we can't disagree on this blog, then what's the point?
Who's getting emotional?

"How will allowing unlimited contributions help you convince politicians to go free trade? If it wont, then what's your point?"

Anyway, my point is that I'm pushing for liberty on each front. I won't agree with caps here and taxes there even if they seemed sensible in a case-by-case analysis, which I'm still not convinced is the case with campaign caps. Again, convincing politicians is not the issue in the long run.

"You seem to be talking about what would have to happen for your favored campaigned finance program to work and then calling that the "long run"."

My goal is liberty in the long run, and I'm not building my philosophy around my "favored" programs.
Come back, Student. I promise I'm not mad.

I know. :) I was busy at work so I didn't have much time to respond.

I think I see what you're driving at. You're saying that you want to pursue a variety of policies to achieve world of total liberty and concessions on any front will only detract from that ultimate goal. Is that right?

Fair enough. My argument was much more modest. I was only trying to describe the implications of a single policy perscription holding everything else constant.

If we want to expand our conversation to cover a wide range of policies then I have to admit that I have no idea what will happen. There would be too many things for me to consider. You yourself said that anything could happen in such a world.

But since anything can happen, I guess we can pretend what will happen is what we want to happen. What's stopping us right?

I wont make any fuss about it. Those types of arguments will win more people over than anything I could ever come up with.

But I will say this...Lost Boys was the best vampire movie of the past 20 years and Jack Bauer will kick your as if you say different. :)
Yeah I was inspired by the last chapter in Rothbard's book about a strategy for liberty and not "giving up any ground" on any policy.

As far as predicting the future, I think it amounts to an educated guess based on historic fact rather than "pretending" something will happen. Rothbard makes the point that we're moving toward liberty because the ill effects of interventionism are finally showing up, and also that we'll have a good chance of convincing people to choose liberty when a "crisis" hits. The main current crisis I can think of is Social Security, but many school and healthcare systems are reaching a point of crisis too.

Since we're in a "mixed economy" right now, a crisis will probably push us toward one of the poles (the two ingredients of the mixture): socialism or the free market. It's our job, if we want it, to correctly diagnose the coming problems and to offer alternatives. Most (if not all) of the good alternatives I can think of are very "free-market".
Crisis also pushes alot of people towards greater statism, like The Stock Market Crash and Katrina.

How can we convince them that government is not the answer, but the problem.
Don't allow them to blame the government in the first place. Their was and is so much government blame over Katrina that it angers me. Since when do governments create hurricanes?

Also, take a few by the hand and show them the wealth waiting to be created by people willing to take risk and responsibility upon themselves. IOW: encourage market entrepreneurship.
Why would potential communists be interested in wealth and risk?
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