Edge of Chaos is a political podcast starring Joe Ryan and Neurotoxin. Its aim is to have a free-flowing discussion of news and current events that also examines the empirical outcomes of public policy, avoiding biases based on ideology and policy intentions. Listener discretion is both advised and encouraged.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

I SUPPORT the McCutcheon Ruling; Bring On the Hatemail!

The bitching about the McCutcheon ruling on either side of the political spectrum is immeasurable, with hyperbole and exaggerated fear-mongering that make Rumsfeld's WMD speech AND Obama's gun control pitch seem believable and tame. But what I have yet to see is a morsel of evidence that this ruling will have negative outcomes, or more specifically evidence that campaign finance restrictions actually accomplish anything. I have searched far and wide for said evidence, and all I have found are mobs of politically ignorant people - both conservative and liberal - insisting emphatically that buying political influence is harmful and wrong. I agree completely. But insisting on the noble INTENT of these laws does NOT constitute evidence they actually succeed at curbing the buying of political influence, all the condescension and ridicule of those who simply believe the success is obvious notwithstanding. So-called "common sense" is not a reliable means of analysis when we are talking about a subject the overwhelming majority of people does not understand; it's ignorant mob rule, EXACTLY what the Constitution was written to keep out of power.

Reasonably speaking, people are free to do whatever we want by default, and whoever wants to restrict human behavior has the burden of proof in demonstrating the benefits of restrictions outweigh the costs. Despite being a self-admitted anarchist, I think MANY laws restricting human behavior are justified using this process. But placing that burden of proof on proponents of campaign finance restrictions, they come up empty-handed and resort to idealistic whining. This is precisely what Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his majority opinion on the ruling; he sees no reason to believe campaign finance restrictions do anything to curb corruption. He's not saying corruption doesn't exist. He's not saying the intents of these laws aren't valid. He is saying the proponents have to demonstrate the laws work, and have failed to do so. I can't speak for Roberts, but I am quite open to being wrong on this. If you have a substantive counter-argument; I would love to hear it.

I do, however, see significant evidence that the unintended consequences of campaign finance restrictions actually create more vote-buying and oligarchy. Like all laws, these are far from airtight and only raise the costs of doing what they intend to stop rather than eliminating it - that's Political Science 101. Considering the laws are trying to limit the richest and most powerful people, it doesn't take a genius to realize that said people have both the incentive and the resources to pay the higher costs and find ways around them. The imbecilic claims of a select class of Occupy protesters notwithstanding, "the rich and elite" are not some unified class of people actively conspiring to enslave and impoverish everyone else. On the contrary, their primary political and economic competitors are EACH OTHER, and given free reign to compete they have a very difficult time maintaining any sort of collective agenda. This even holds true in extremely oligarchic societies that allege anti-competitive cultures, such as North Korea where Kim Jong Un recently executed his own uncle in a top-ranks power struggle. However, when the costs of competition are raised, as in the case of campaign finance restrictions, rich and powerful people have significantly more incentive to circumvent them by consolidating their resources behind special interest organizations that fund coalition candidates and proposals; culminating in an extremely polarized field with only 2 sides. While the US has always had a 2-party system, the eclipse of modern partisanship over other political divides such as regional and conservative vs liberal is unprecedented. Before the 1960s these were cross-cutting divides that made for a far more competitive political system, and campaign finance restrictions are a significant factor in that change.

The idea of each rich person or family financing their own candidate may seem far less aesthetically pleasing than a coalition doing so; but give this 30 seconds of rational thought and you realize that means a far wider and more diverse pool of major candidates. A greater number of financially viable candidates means more competition for votes and the support of average people, forcing politicians and their patron financiers to offer greater concessions and seek to represent more minority viewpoints to get ahead. There is even significant evidence that campaign spending has a point of diminishing returns; as we witnessed with Sheldon Adelson's individual funding of Newt Gingrich for President in 2012. Again, this means politicians have to bring something more to the table than just their campaign dollars - a requirement that is LONG overdue in high-profile US elections. This all materialized between our very eyes in the first post-Citizens United Presidential election in 2012; where the overabundance of Republican Primary candidates and their seemingly bottomless finance wells forced a drawn out battle and exposed most of them as blithering idiots and kooks. I, personally, can't wait to see said accountability swamp consume both parties in 2016, when there is no incumbent.

It is reasonable to speculate that establishment politicians on both sides of the aisle, especially entrenched party leaders, clearly see the abrupt end to their political careers in the elimination of campaign finance restrictions. But for the average person, this offers a glimmer of hope for a republic fractionated enough to actually respect minority interests and not perpetually force a choice between the lesser of two evils. If you are terrified by this ruling, it is because you are in a state of ignorance and being deceived by intentional fear-mongering disseminated by existing political interests for whom the ruling spells political doom. Politicians do not voluntarily work to insure their own transparency, and emphatic insistence on the noble intents of laws is usually a good indicator the laws are failing or even serve ulterior motives. The SCOTUS did a great job upholding the Constitution despite unpopularity, and mass ignorance on the subject does not make the ruling wrong. Throw away your naive faith in public hysteria equaling objective reality, get educated, and if after that you STILL believe campaign finance restrictions will reduce corruption - come talk to me.


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