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Peddling Favors: Supply-Side or Demand-Side?

12 December 2008

A superficial mirror-reading of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians suggests that there were some so-called “gospel” preachers who were peddling their message for an inappropriate degree of personal gain.  Some things never change, I guess.


The Blagojevich saga, which is as incredible a display of political arrogance as qb has ever seen, raises the question:  which phenomenon bears more responsibility for giving rise to corruption?

Is it (a) private campaign finance, in which individuals and associations might be thought to demand special favors in return for their donations?  Or is it (b) a weary, worn-down, nominally conservative electorate, disinclined to fight any longer against discretionary government spending, so that the supply of special favors has become a commodity to be bought and sold on the political market?

Given the problem with ambition and character exemplified by Rod Blagojevich, we do well to spend some time thinking soberly about the question.  

On the demand side, (a) George Will argues persuasively and persistently – and winsomely, often comparing national campaign expenditures to the amount Americans spend annually on Twinkies or potato chips – that campaign donations are a sine qua non of the kind of speech – political – that the First Amendment was explicitly designed to protect.  The more citizens we have in our country, the more efficiently political speech must reach voters in order to educate them, the higher the premium on media exposure:  hence, the direct linkage between campaign donations and political advocacy.  The days of door-to-door campaigning may not be over, but by itself – without media amplification and repetition – walking the streets shaking hands does not, cannot get the job done.  OK, that’s pretty obvious, McCain-Feingold notwithstanding.  (What part of “Congress shall make no law…” does John McCain not understand?)

On the supply side, (b), the snowballing bailout mess has exposed a salient fact:  the American people can still be pushed to the limit of their tolerance for socialist-style therapy, but it would appear that our tolerance threshold has increased dramatically over the past 20 years of Bush/Clinton/Bush.  Rent seeking is no longer considered an affront to a capitalist republic; it simply is what it is, a commodity to be managed by the political equivalents of futures markets, options, and derivatives, nicely illustrated by the fruit of the Blagojevich wiretaps.

The left has successfully demonized Big Oil, Big Food, Big Insurance, Big Retail, and Big Pharmaceuticals, but it reserves its blessings for Big Labor, Big Education, Big [Domestic] Auto…and Big Government as the sugar daddy whose job is to keep the left’s pet industries afloat.  All of that, of course, is to be expected:  it is, after all, the left.

In the wake of the Reagan presidency, what we perhaps expected but held out hope of avoiding was a circumstance in which the Reagan Revolution would be co-opted by the mirror image of the left’s rent-seeking ways, supply-side politics.  President Bush bears great responsibility not only for letting it happen but also for actively encouraging it with his role in an unconscionable expansion of an already crippling welfare state.  He was roundly – and some of us thought, appropriately – feared as being a take-no-prisoners conservative when he was first elected, and we gave him a pass when he took care of business after 9/11.  But the Medicare prescription drug benefit/boondoggle – it wasn’t that he signed it, it was that he was an initiator and champion of it.  It is no longer a surprise to me, consequently, that he and Paulson are so heavily implicated in today’s bailout culture.

All things considered, if qb had to score the two contributors, the evidence leans toward (b) now, even if (a) used to be the predominant driver of corruption…among other things.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. 12 December 2008 5:28 pm


    It seems to me that you are setting up a polarized, ahem, straw man–winsome or not. Politics, economics, and government are a great deal more complex. Yes, there are sometimes simple solutions to complex problems, but generally not. Consider your own area of agriculture: it is filled with macro and micro issues involving politics, economics, and government. Boondoggles, well, yes and no and maybe so. Should, for example, the market alone deal with mad cow disease? Or the DoA? Salmonella, imported tomatoes (damage to the industry), jalepeños (late but taken care of). Is the government heavy-handed or do humans panic at bannered bad news?

    The cash nexus is always in tension between greed and genrosity. The great Adam Smith did his best, but rational self-interest only works with rationally self-interested folk–by which he meant honest folk. I give a cheer or even two for capitalism, but not three. But for us followers of Jesus, it seems to me, God is involved mysteriously to make the sun and rain (if we humans in our hubris don’t do irreparable damage) fall on the good and evil alike.

    As my grandmama used to say: where there’s a stink, you’ll find polecats and buzzards. Now there is a polarity I can understand! I have yet to figure out which Blagojevich is. And it probably isn’t my place. Still, I can feel really good about myself when I realize that little ole me didn’t solicit a bribe for a Senate seat.

    By the way, I bought the tamales I will eat tonight from a sweet, elderly Mexican lady from Monterey who speaks little English, who has been in Texas forty years, who was given amnesty by Reagan, who has a green card but lives in fear of both her anglo neighbors, and the INS and IRS. She barely makes ends meet. So I buy her wonderful tamales. Wish you could enjoy them with me.



  2. queueball permalink*
    12 December 2008 5:57 pm

    Coop, you’ll notice (I hope) that I never posited that one was wholly responsible and the other not. I deal with multi-cause phenomena all the time in just about every phase of my existence.

    The question I intended to pose was, which of these two seems to have more influence than the other? Both of them are present, both are significant, and both are accompanied by other, complicating influences. But when these two influences arm-wrestle, which one is most likely to win in today’s conditions? I argue that supply is now creating demand, more than the other way around. The number of ways elected officials seek to dream up new categories of “felt need” is just mushrooming.


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