Sandro (sandhawke) wrote,


If you haven't pledged yet, please do. It's our best chance to save what's left of american democracy.

For the fun of it, you can pledge via my pledge page, and then I can see just how motivated folks are!
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I confess to a large degree of dubiousness that any PAC, super or otherwise, will save any aspect of democracy.
Do you think something else will? Or that nothing will?

Depends how cynical I'm feeling. Most of the time I feel like nothing will because I believe that the people have been sufficiently doped, duped, and cowed.
Can you play the odds? What are the odds this will succeed? 10:1 against? 50:1 against What would it be worth to you to have a reasonable, working, accountable government? $10,000? ...etc...
I don't buy lottery tickets either.

On a more serious note, this:

On my optimistic days, I think there's some chance that a solution will be found via a combination of enlightened self-interest and somewhat smaller-scale (city, maybe even state-level) actions changing national consensus. I have a hard time thinking of the last time Washington led the country into something I thought was right. Maybe the Clean Air Act? Obamacare was Romneycare first. Higher minimum wage came from the states. NY's Attorney General went after the financial fraudsters first. The states clearly led the fight for equal marriage. Etc. In none of these cases do I see a Washington-centered PAC of any sort being useful.

Here's the thing: even if I could wave my magic wand and get all money influence out of national politics you'd still have to solve the problem of regulatory capture. As vile as people buying Congress is, I think regulatory capture is a much larger problem, with many more pernicious effects.
I don't know if anyone is suggesting that getting big money out of politics would enable Congress to lead, just that it would be more rational, and acting more in the interest of the country, when it followed.

Isn't much of the antidote to regulatory capture supposed to be congressional oversight? Except which congress is captured as well, clearly that doesn't work.
This is slightly wonky and might get long. I believe you misunderstand the mechanics of regulatory capture. Let me walk through a toy example as I understand it and explain why I think oversight is nearly irrelevant.

Take an agency such as the FTC which is supposed to regulate an industry, say the financial trading sector. In order to regulate, the people who work at the FTC have to understand the industry they are regulating. Ideally, they'd also be smarter than the guys they're regulating otherwise the industry people will just think up clever(er) ways to avoid regulation and hide activity from the regulators.

So you need to hire people who know the financial industry. Where, pray tell, are you going to get people who are smart and understand that industry? Well, most of them are going to come from the industry itself. You could hire other smart people and train them in the industry but since you (the government) pay less there's not a lot of incentive for people to go to the government in order to learn finance. They'd rather go to Wall St and make six figures for starting salary. The reasons why people move into government from industry itself are varied - service, a desire to do well/good, etc. Plus industry is generally a pyramid and there just isn't enough room for people to move up. If you can't move up, sometimes you move out. You see this a lot - people who can't move up as cops become private security, ex-military go into policing, etc.

Now your agency is staffed with people who know the industry (good) but also came from that industry. That's risky because we're all human and nobody just dumps all their friendships when they change job. So your employees have a network of connections and friendships into the industry they regulate. That requires oversight, but Congress can't do that. That's what internal auditors and compliance offices are for. Agencies largely have to be self-policing, though there is an Auditor General who can be called in when things go particularly pear-shaped (e.g. the IRS or Veterans Affairs recently). The A.G. has to report to Congress - specifically the committees charged with overseeing the agency under investigation - and also the President but at the end of the day it's an Executive function, not Legislative.

This sort of "hiring from industry" goes all the way to the top. The heads of Federal agencies almost always come from the industry being regulated - again, they know the field, and they know how to manage a large organization comprised of people like that. They are, all bias aside, generally the best possible candidates for these jobs. The FTC has commissioners from all sorts of big companies. DoJ is staffed and run by lawyers who used to work for major corporations (particularly in this administration from the Copyright Cartel, but that's a separate rant). On and on.

Now, there are some people who make a career in government. There are a few perks, like the lifetime healthcare, that are quite nice. Job security is high. But generally you make a lot less money in government than in private industry and more often than not you end up working at an agency that's being directed by the other party. If you're a left- or Democrat-leaning FTC regulator then you probably don't feel all that great about enforcing the regulations put out by a right- or Republican president. So you leave.

Where might you go, with your skill set and experience? If your answer is anything other than "back to the financial industry" or "to a lobbying organization" then you're not being realistic. You probably triple your salary overnight, get nice perks, and may even get to stay in Washington so you don't have to move your family, leave your new friends, etc. This is all sensible and rational. Likewise, you are more valuable to industry now because you not only have added to your years of financial expertise, you are likely now quite versed in regulation and how the government sees things. You bring useful skills to the organization that can get you up the ladder you couldn't move up before.

(continued in part 2)
(part 2)

Now spin back time a few years. You're working at the FTC and you can see the writing on the wall. The Democrats are probably going to lose the Legislative branch entirely and might even lose the Presidency. Going to be time to get out soon, and you know where you're going to be applying - see above. So now you have to do your regular work regulating an industry that you are going to be asking to give you a job in a couple years. And really, you've known this would happen since you came to Washington.

So again, it's kind of natural to go easy on people. Like the cop who pulls over a speeder, you have significant discretion in how you do your job. You could write a big ticket and make the guy go to court, pay fines, get points on his license. Or you could let him off with a warning - doesn't even have to be written - and nobody gets angry. It's legal, it's not going to trigger any oversight problems, and it's the heart of regulatory capture.

Pretty much everyone who goes to work at a regulatory agency knows that in a few years they're going to be back in the private sector. If they spend their time in Washington pissing off that private sector they're going to find themselves stuck, and missing out on those nice perks and the big salary increases. Everyone in this story is acting legally, and in their own rational self-interest, which is why Congressional oversight has zip-all to do with regulatory capture.
Thanks for the careful explanation. I was certainly mischaracterizing it by saying congressional oversight would just fix it.

Your whole story seems to assume a kind of massive us-vs-them, though, which I don't think is how the world works, when the world works.

Let's take the classic tragedy of the commons. Every everyone grazes all their sheep on the commons, the grass will die, and then we'll all die. That would be bad. So let's make a rule, that each person is allowed to graze their sheep on the commons only twice a week, and the rest of the time they'll have to graze elsewhere. Also, you can only graze up to ten sheep. If you have more, you'll have to graze the extras elsewhere.

Now, we could just agree to this, and see what happens. But probably some folks will start to bring in 12 sheep or graze three times a week and hope no one notices. So, we'll ask the town crier to check on the commons at lunch every day and make sure everything is on the up and up.


Does that make the sheep farmers the bad guys and the crier the good guy?

No, it just makes the folks trying to sneak more than their fare share the bad guys. The good guys actually *appreciate* the crier, since he keeps them from getting ripped off.

So back in the modern world, there might be lots of companies who would be fine reducing carbon emissions, but of course only if all their competition has to reduce it as much. So if there's carbon regulations, it's in the interest of all the companies that are actually going to follow the rules to have regulators do a good job and nail the folks who don't.

Where things get really bad is if everyone is ignoring the rules. Once and industry is completely out of hand like that, then, yeah, you've got to bring in outsiders who don't give a damn that they're pissing off everyone.

So oversight is needed so that if some good players notice the bad players are getting away with it, they can report it and get the regulators fired. And so that if everyone has gone dirty, someone can be called in to clean it all up.

Right now, congress has no motivation or ability to do that, if it's against the folks with the most money, which is likely to be the industry itself.


At least, that's how I'm thinking about it.

Now, from a social media perspective, how do I get people to pledge money today?
If you think that companies do not do everything in their power to get ahead, and that it is not the role of government to create and enforce a level playing field, then I think we may be too far apart to have a productive discussion. If you agree, then I don't see how you frame this as anything BUT "us vs them". Your commons analogy isn't appropriate - a better analogy might be referees and players in a ball game.

As noted in the article I linked way back at the start of the thread there are people who believe in what I'd call enlightened self-interest. They want to see the minimum wage raised, but it can't be done by one company nationally disadvantaging itself. It has to be done by either local action (my belief) or uniform regulation, which seems entirely lacking. And yes, the corporatization of politics has done more to stymie any effective regulation than anything else.

But all we've done is gone around a large circle to the point where I started saying "if you waved a magic wand and got all the money out" then maybe Congress would regulate and there would have to be agencies that enforce those regulations and then we're back to my belief that regulatory capture would defeat these schemes.

how do I get people to pledge money today?

No idea. Good luck with that. I tend to think it's a grand waste of effort, but more power to ya.