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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Should We Sell the Legislative Process?

Long before reading Chris Lehmann’s piece, “Funding Fathers,” in Bookforum (Volume 20, Issue 4, Dec/Jan 2014), I’d had cynical thoughts about what’s happened to our American system of electing legislators. What with the gerrymandering of recent years, the increasing tendency of Americans (and probably most of the rest of the world) to get their “news” chiefly from sources whose political biases they share, and then the Citizens United decision, now beefed up by the recent McCutcheon verdict – why, I wondered sadly, go through all the uproar and distraction of political campaigns? Why not just go directly from Point A to Point B and sell the offices to the highest bidders?

I mean, you think the Tea Party is Populist, that it represents the Common Man and Woman? Lehmann cites a study done by Thomas Ferguson (political science, U-Mass, Boston), Paul Jorgensen (political science, UTexas-PanAmerican), and Jie Chen (statistics, U-Mass, Boston) showing that there is “no meaningful divide” between donors to the Tea Party and the GOP’s usual donors. “The business community and its leased Tea Party mouthpieces share the same basic long-term goals: to continue cutting taxes and to slash away at government expenditures.” I’m sure my readers will realize without having to be told that small indie bookstores are not representative of nor even part of “business community” in this context. In fact, the articles goes on,
It [study results] gets better. Among the biggest bankrollers of Tea Party incumbents in 2012 were commercial banks and their executives—i.e., the very constituencies that, in rhetorical terms, at least, Tea Party leaders profess to despise....
Now ask yourself: Does it make sense to elect to office--or even to sell legislative office to--legislators who don’t believe in government? Who think government is the problem? Who don’t want any regulations or taxes? Who don’t believe in “the common good” at all, except insofar as they like to tell us that benefits to the wealthiest will “trickle down” to lower levels?

So here’s a new modest proposal for the 21st century: Abolish Congress and sell laws to the highest bidders. You want a certain law? Write up your bill, round up your donor base, and if you come up with more scratch than your opponents, you get your law. Simple!

Naturally, a few kinks need to be worked out before the new system can be put into effect. The U.S. Constitution will have to be seriously amended, for starters. But that shouldn’t be an insurmountable obstacle, do you think? I’m sure a majority of the Supreme Court could be –uh, let’s say persuaded. The bigger question is what would be done with all the money raised. It couldn’t go to legislators (or their campaigns), because Congress has been abolished, and it shouldn’t go to government, for Pete’s sake. That wasteful, spendthrift old dinosaur of an antiquated institution? Please!

I've got it! CEO bonuses! But only the already highest-paid would be eligible for these windfalls. After all, aren’t those with the biggest salary and compensation packages worth more than the rest of us put together? Can you doubt that for one moment?


Anonymous said...

This is your "modest proposal?" In all serious, for those of us who are left-leaning and want an egalitarian society it can be maddening to study politics nowadays. I think we have to decide that we want all elections to be publicly funded in their entirety (so there would be no private money allowed). The only way to do this would be a constitutional amendment. Sadly, this is unlikely given that legislators are in office because they received funding from corporations or unions or whoever else supported their campaigns. But it possible and I think some Democrats are getting to that point (Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, e.g.).

Dawn said...

I think that if you sell laws to the highest bidder you'll see longer heavier trucks because the American Trucking Association has much deeper pockets than any safety advocate group.

Unknown said...

Beautiful, Pamela. Right on. Remember my piece on Ayn Rand? Though she's been disavowed and discredited (except by the likes of Paul Ryan), isn't her version of objectivism still alive and kicking? - Steve

P. J. Grath said...

I've gone back and put a link to Jonathan Swift's A MODEST PROPOSAL in this post. Matthew, I see you caught the allusion -- and of course you already know I (we) have Irish heritage!

Indeed, Dawn. That's my point.

Steve, I do remember your paper. Read a great review in BOOKFORUM yesterday on new book by Alan Greenspan. I think I would recommend the review over the book.

BB-Idaho said...

We note that buying legislation is
already well under way by organizations that write law and get it passed through a special interest/money/politician operation. For example, in my
state, the linked organization
was active in 'protecting' big
Ag, by passing a law which prohibits documentation of animal cruelty at factory farms, the silly upshot of which is the penalty for doing so is DOUBLE
the penalty for actual cruelty to animals. *sigh*

P. J. Grath said...

BB, That is indeed a sad, sad example of the kind of thing that is going on all over the country. Yes, I'm afraid the selling of our legislature is well underway. I really should have given this post a different title, because it was as I thought about how much influence money already buys that I expanded the scope of my satiric proposal to call for the outright abolition of Congress.