Learning By Doing III. Limiting the Influence of Lobbyists

 

The eclectic entrepreneur/economist/law professor, James Bessen, suggests how to boost our stagnant economy in a new book, “Learning by Doing: the real connection between innovation, wages and wealth.” The idea is to make fuller use of new technology by putting more emphasis on practical vocational training, ending government favoritism for established businesses, and by removing regulatory roadblocks to job mobility and entrepreneurship.  He also thinks that the greatest hindrance to progress on these fronts is the influence of lobbyists and, more generally, “the growing role of money in politics.”
CaptureHow do we limit the ability of lobbyists, with their huge financial resources, to slow down the opening up of new technology to the broadest possible group of participants?  Some people would say this can only be done by curtailing the use of money in politics.  But this is virtually impossible.  Spending money to get your message out is really just a form of speech and the First Amendment to the Constitution says that “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech.”
Rather than trying to restrict the ways in which lobbyists can spend their money, we could alternatively try to immunize our elected representatives from its effect, in one or both of these two different ways:

  • Pass a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution. Such an amendment would likely create the discipline needed for Congress to be able to set priorities and decide what is more or less important with regard to the overall economy. Spending programs, tax revenue, and the effects of regulation would all have to be considered together to maximize economic efficiency. Lobbyists would have far less power to push one particular program independently of how it relates to everything else.
  • Term Limits for national office. Knowing that one’s time in office is limited would help provide the strength to make the difficult tradeoffs necessary for good legislation and make officeholders more immune to special interest influence.

Conclusion:  Rather than making a likely futile attempt to reduce the amount of money in the political process, change the process sufficiently so that money doesn’t have as much influence!

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