18 March 2010

The problem with lobbying

Michael Tomasky writes about the lobbyists against health care reform in the US:
At one point last year, more than 3,300 people were registered as lobbyists on health care. That's six for every member of Congress, House and Senate combined. ... In addition, it's worth remembering that, apart from lobbying legislators, these organizations spend vast sums for television and radio advertising. The Money Fighting Health Care Reform, 'New York Review of Books', dated 8 April
Lobbying is, of course, a legitimate activity. What makes it problematic, for me, is that it is almost all done by organizations, supposedly on behalf of their members. These organizations can be corporations, trade unions, NGOs, or other bodies, but they have in common that their over-arching goal is self-perpetuation. It is not the long-term interests of their members as individuals, still less of people in general. Lobbying today is, essentially, lobbying of corporate interests by corporations. And in achieving their main goal, they are remarkably successful. With corporations going bust everywhere, growing unemployment and a still-fragile economy, as Mr Tomasky says, 'federal lobbyists and their clients spent more than $3.47 billion last year [2009]. That is an all-time high, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, whose executive director notes dryly that lobbying is one business that appears to be "recession proof." '

We need a way of re-orienting policy towards the interests and aspirations of ordinary people. Transparency about what are government's goals would help, and a Social Policy Bond regime would necessarily bring that about. Under a bond regime, government funding would be inextricably tied to efficient achievement of agreed, explicit social and environmental goals. There would probably still be lobbyists - but no longer could they concentrate their efforts (and enticements) on the (much smaller) number of legislators. Instead they would have to convince the rest of us as to the justice of their cause. A stark contrast to, and I believe, a big improvement on the current system.

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