Thursday, May 11, 2006

Diverting attention

"Lobbying" is the activity of attempting to influence legislation by privately influencing the legislators. It is the result and creation of a mixed economy—of government by pressure groups. Its methods range from mere social courtesies and cocktail-party or luncheon "friendships" to favors, threats, bribes, blackmail.
— Ayn Rand, The Pull Peddlers
The effect of restrictions on lobbying is to restrain the opportunity for people and organizations to contribute financially to their interests in the political process. This abridgement of free speech has been generally regarded — meaning reflexively and stupidly believed as a result of constant iteration — as a reasonable limit to ensure that the political process is not captured by wealthy special interests and to reduce the appearance of corruption in politics. Indeed, both were cited in 2004 by the Supreme Court of Canada as plausible excuses for abridging the right to free speech which is enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in favour of an incontestably vague concept of "electoral fairness" which is, of course, nowhere in the Charter. It's odd then, when the Supreme Court decision was brought to bear against Stephen Harper as a respondent in a challenge against Liberal campaign finance laws in his previous incarnation as president of the National Citizens Coalition, that it is the same Stephen Harper who, as Prime Minister of Canada, is promoting a Federal Accountability Act that, among other things, includes a Lobbying Act that is meant to severely curtail the ability of individuals and organizations to influence bureaucrats and politicians.

Of course, for political purposes, the appearance of corruption is and must be the only problem, and the only thing that politicians will really aspire to address. Corruption is nothing more than an exchange of commodities, of course, not in the free market or in the approximation of the free market that is generally understood to be as such, but rather in a centrally-run and highly regulated economy, because the commodities exchanged are political favours for financial partisan favours. By going after the lobbyists, politicians are simultaneously protecting their privileges of granting those favours and at the same time exempting from blame themselves as the cause of the problem and ascribing it instead to the symptom. As Terence Corcoran writes in an excellent piece in today's Financial Post:
Why so many lobbyists? Because there isn't a nook or cranny of the Canadian economy that isn't the target of some bureaucrat or politician looking to score some populist points or ride some wild policy bandwagon.
I don't mean to exonerate the buyers in dishonourable transactions, but the demand in this kind of exchange is artificially stimulated by the penalties for failing to purchase attached by a monopolistic seller. What is meant by a lobbyist's special interest is often simply that he must bribe bureacrats and politicians to return to him what ought to have been his in the first place, in opposition to others trying to bribe bureaucrats and politicians against him. Even when that is not the case, that lobbyists often conspire with and bend the hazards of arbitrary regulations and legislation to place themselves at a competitive advantage is less an indictment of lobbyists than of the ridiculous market in political and financial favours that government has sponsored and which ultimately is designed to serve its own corrupt interests by exerting control over what is not rightfully its own.

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