Last week the Center for Public Integrity reported that almost 1,800 “special interest groups” have already hired 2,100 lobbyists and spent an estimated $45 million to lobby Congress on transportation in the first half of this year. The center, which tracks money in politics, says its investigation of transportation lobbying shows that “Congress’s funding of transportation has become a broken process influenced by special interests.” According to the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, the number of earmarks exploded from just 10 in 1982 to more than 6,300 in the 2005 SAFETEA-LU law.
Public policy in the U.S. is and has been trapped for many years between two competing teams.
The first is obvious: lobbying groups and even the one-person special interest group of every congressional district (the congressperson) or two-person group of each state (the senators.) Their only idea is to line their own pockets through the public trough, or to get re-elected, or worse both. When government was relatively small, this wasn’t so bad, but now that it’s so big, it’s a real problem.
The second is insidious: these “public interest” groups which are in reality pushing the same luddite agenda they’ve been doing since the 1960’s. One of the signal weaknesses of American liberalism is its complete lack of understanding as to how productive economics actually work. The Communists in the Soviet Union actually built an industrial power. I don’t think the American left is either capable or desirous of doing the same, “green jobs” and all of that blather notwithstanding.
This kind of dialectic has spoilt our whole transportation policy for many years, and has done the same with our energy policy, which is why we import so much oil and have never properly developed either our domestic fossil fuels or non-CO2 producing energy sources (unlike the French and Swiss, for example, who invested so heavily in nuclear power.
The dysfunctionality of our political system is one reason why I am sceptical about nationalising our health care system (which is the end game, don’t kid yourself.) It’s like the Middle East: by the time you’ve paid everybody off, you’re broke, and the system isn’t any better for the effort.
Our country has watched as real public spirit has eroded as reflexive flag waving has increased. It’s hard to envision progress on any issue in this environment.