If there were lobbyists in the 18th century, would there be a provision in the US Constitution …

… to restrict their activities?

David Cay Johnston doesn’t say that, but on reading his essay, I was thinking that. The corporations that occupy Congress won’t tell you anything you weren’t already thinking about how the government serves corporations, but it is a well framed and well written and reasonably detailed update that you should read.

James Madison wrote disapprovingly in 1792 of “a government operating by corrupt influence, substituting the motive of private interest in place of public duty” where eventually “the terror of the sword, may support a real domination of the few, under an apparent liberty of the many.”

The late U.S. president’s fears have come to life. For swords, just substitute police with rubber bullets, batons and pepper spray at Occupy demonstrations, including perfectly peaceful ones.

Company reports to shareholders show that among the 30 companies in the Public Campaign report, the 10 firms that spent the most on lobbying during the same three-year period fired more than 93,000 American workers.

Those firings took place in an economy that had five million fewer people with any work in 2010 than in 2008.

I think part of the problem is that corporations not only act in their own self interest, but as individual people tend to do, do so only in the very short term, looking only one or two iterations out. When a major delivery company spends lobbying money to avoid a union, they get to pay their workers less. Good move. But the lower paid workers pay fewer taxes (and the delivery company certainly isn’t paying any significant taxes) and they spend less and their homes get foreclosed fueling a baking crisis, etc. etc. Channel ling more money through middle-range pay grades means more money moving and moving money is the thing that makes an economy work.

Anyway, go read the essay. There’s a nice graph too.

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3 Responses to If there were lobbyists in the 18th century, would there be a provision in the US Constitution …

  1. Hatchetfish says:

    Hmm. Good point, I’d never thought about it, but I suppose baking would be difficult while living on the streets.

  2. Russell says:

    I would love to see a federal law that bans campaign contributions to federal office. Texas has a law that does that for state offices. I doubt it is the only state to do so.

    That said, I don’t fool myself into thinking it would cure corporate influence. Much of which works through the media. And therein lies the rub. The one thing worse than business control of major media is government control of it. That’s why the 1st amendment guarantees a free press. I’ve heard a lot of proposals about how to dampen the influence of corporate dollars, while preserving press freedom. I’ve yet to see one that squarely faces the problem of how to define where corporate speech that they want to control ends, and where the press begins.

    But corporate campaign contributions are easy. Ban them.

  3. Uncle Glenny says:

    OT but tangential point not often mentioned: cutting all that government spending (at all levels) by cutting the workforce and/or union busting has a similar effect. Ditto the military. I would venture a guess that paying the personnel but cutting back on all those super-expensive armaments and overpriced contractors would have the effect of feeding more money back into the economy.

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