The game of politics is about favors and special interests, money exchanging hands, deals being made, sometimes under the table and other times in plain sight. Powerful people have always had an advantage in influencing the process. But when it comes to politics, people claim to not want competition; rather they demand fairness, equality, and virtue.
The most common argument for achieving this goal is an equal democratic playing field, the classic hope of “getting money out of politics.” On its face, this seems like an obvious and effective solution to the problem. I hope to convince you otherwise.
Egalitarian Elections: A Naivety
The primary reason people want money out of politics is a desire for each vote to be equally valuable. That makes sense. No average joe voter wants to have to compete against the political persuasion of wealthy constituents. But will removing money from politics provide that outcome? Sorry, but no.
Why do influencers want to get in in the first place? For the same reason as any other human action: the pursuit of self interest.
Money is an easy scapegoat. The presidential election was between a billionaire real estate tycoon and a career politician with a list of financial sponsors long enough to make NASCAR jealous. But what many people fail to understand is that money largely acts as a cherry on top. In terms of piquing a politician's interest, resources are inconsequential compared to the value of power itself.
If you prohibit powerful entities from donating large sums of money, that won’t stop them from exploiting other means of influence. Whether that be Facebook offering ad space, CNN molding public opinion, workers unions pledging allegiance, or celebrities rallying their fans, people find a way. There is an infinite number of ways by which people, who are more important than you in the eyes of politicians, can supercede your influential impact as a single voter.
Can Politics be Cleansed?
Politics will always and forever be vulnerable to corruption. And getting money out does little to shrink that vulnerability.
Probably the most common question among those who want to clean up politics is how to stop these influencers from getting in. That’s not the right question. People should be asking why do these influencers want to get in in the first place. Usually the answer is simple, like any other human action, their involvement is driven by their pursuit of self interest.
Do you think it’s a coincidence when someone like Elon Musk throws his support behind a politician who wants to increase corporate subsidies for renewable energy? Or how about taxi unions lining their cabs with advertisements for Mayoral candidates pledging to crack down on Uber?
Even something like Beyonce & Jay Z’s political appearances. Do you not think visiting the White House and hanging with the Obamas helps their publicity and album sales? Do you not think that, in exchange, Obama hopes to increase approval ratings among blacks and millennials?
If you want politics to be less corrupt, the solution isn’t to shrink corruption. It's to shrink the state.
Of course, these incentives are obvious to anyone willing to see them. Politicians give corporations favors in order to receive favors from corporations. And the only way to end this cycle is not by banning corporate favors, which only migrates the exchange to the black market.
The only solution is to eliminate the ability of politicians to influence markets. Once politicians no longer have the ability to heavily influence private commerce, property and individual interactions, the incentive for corrupt entities to exploit government ceases to exist. But, so long as you legitimize the expansion of governmental power, the desire for people to control it to work in their favor will expand simultaneously.
Politics is prone to corruption, no matter how detailed the legislation, no matter how noble the public official. If you want politics to be less corrupt, the solution isn’t to shrink corruption. The solution is to shrink the state.