The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. - Wm. Blake

Thursday, August 04, 2005


OK, there's been a huge to-do over at the Slacktivist, due to a series of three posts in which Fred discusses the never-acknowledged fact that Bush & Cheney will be enormous beneficiaries* of an estate tax repeal - Bush by some $750,000, Cheney by at least $12.6 million.

Some people are, of course, horrified that anyone would question the motives of politicians... hmm, that can't be right. They must have some other objection....

Ah. Of course: "just like people selling their votes for govt checks get an ethical pass." The old 'bribes from the wealthy for legislative favors are identical to poor people voting for politicians who support poor-helping policies." Let's have a little thought experiment on this, shall we?

Old Man Potter calls up his congressman. Turns out there's a boil on his neck - some penny-ante building & loan that's taking garlic-eaters out of his slums and filling them up with crazy notions. So, Potter wonders whether the law might be changed - perhaps building & loans could be required to have $8,000 cash on hand at all times. And of course, Potter would love to see that the congressman gets something for his troubles - nice trip to Europe maybe?

Now Al, Joe, & Martini from Bedford Falls have been pretty hard hit by the Depression. They write letters to their congressman (can't afford the long distance, you know), wondering what might be done to help them and ther neighbors through a rough patch. Maybe some sort of social insurance program, or perhaps an indirect subsidy for their recently-built homes. If their congressman helps them out, he would surely get their vote next time around.

So, have Al, Joe, and Martini "sold their votes?" In a sense, sure. After all, given a choice between a candidate who helps them and one who does not, it's hard to see why they should vote for the one who doesn't. So what's the difference between this and what Potter has done? Let me count the ways:
1. Potter, of course, is not offering his vote. He's offering a bribe. If Potter called up the congressman and offered him one vote in exchange for the Potter Protection Act, that would be legitimate - and would have no distorting effects on society. One man, one vote.

2. Potter is not promoting the common welfare - in fact, he opposes it when, as in this case, the common welfare opposes his own. But surely Potter's bribe could promote the common welfare. Could do, but then why a bribe? If it benefits Al, Joe, & Martini, then they would support it, and would vote for the congressman who passed it. By definition, bribery is anti-democratic.

3. But aren't the campaign contributions of the Bedford Falls Citizens' Group just as insidious as Potter's (setting aside for a moment the difference between actual cash bribes - like Bush and Cheney are offering themselves - and indirect 'bribes' of campaign cash)? Could be, except that everyone knows who's in the BFCG, and what that cash represents. No one sees Potter's bribe. And if the Little Rent Collector's Action Council starts pumping money into anti-BFCG advertising, it won't be hard to figure out where the LRCAC's money is really coming from, nor whom it's intended to benefit.
My apologies to those of you left clueless by this little "It's a Wonderful Life" fable. Let's just leave it at this:

It is very important for a certain group of Americans to equate votes and publicly-disclosed campaign support with cash bribes. Think about who that group is, and ask yourself why someone might be pushing their agenda.

*I was going to amend that to indicate that their kids will benefit, but since the estate tax changes peoples' behaviors while living, it's safe to say that Dick & George will themselves be happier.


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