Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn

Both Subtle and Wrong

Recently, the Obama administration has been preparing an executive order requiring companies that contract with the federal government to disclose any political contributions they make (above a certain limit). As expected, the usual people are grumbling about it. There are some real issues, although I think the reasoning behind the executive order is sound and it would be good policy.

Why the policy: In general, corporate contributions are a problem. Whether direct (funds) or indirect (friendly advertisements), they corrupt our political process. Not being citizens, their interests should not be considered in our democracy. Our only care for their well-being is in when they accidentally serve our interests; corporations are tools, not ends. They are particularly a problem when they buy influence in DC that directly affects their source of income; it is much more of a problem when parts of the Military-Industrial Complex buy political influence over their own business contracts.

An initially reasonable objection: Forced disclosure over campaign finance has a chilling effect on free speech. It also risks political favouritism and an effective return to politics of patronage. It's undesirable that the government should choose its contractors based on how their political alignment meshes with the current administration.

This objection is kind of subtle. I think it's also wrong.

  • On free speech, corporations (are not/should not be treated as) citizens. There is no injustice caused by stifling their speech.
  • The patronage argument is more legitimate. In the United States (from the beginning, but becoming much worse under Andrew Jackson), the spoils system was once a major issue in our politics; before civil service bodies came into being, government posts and contracts were regularly awarded to those who had elected the current government. Disclosure of contributions risks influence from quiet preferences in awarding contracts. Is this a problem in practice? I suspect it usually is not; many big-name corporations have made their political preferences known voluntarily, we just lack information about their specific contributions and the amounts associated with them. Also, disclosure does not necessarily imply preferential treatment; these decisions are often semi-public or public, enough so that corporations sometimes sue over the decisions. They're also fairly regulated.
I believe that this executive order is limited to making it possible to talk about the effects of campaign contributions while having the actual data on them. It won't directly stop the abuse; Boeing might still buy influence in DC (and I still hold that that is fundamentally illegitimate) to get favourable contracts for what it sells to the US government, but until this executive order is scrapped, we'll have the ability to point at it and shout. It's not the best solution, and like any executive order it can be overturned by any future president. It'd be better to have it in law, and better to have outright bans on corporate contributions (soft or hard money), but it's something.

I wasn't sure which way Cato would go on this; like most Libertarian institutions, Cato is usually effectively a corporate shill, but on occasion they've broken with groups (like the US Chamber of Commerce) that are officially corporate shills, over some matters of principle. Either way, for most purposes I consider them almost entirely malign.

Recently there was an amusing tiff between France and Italy. Italy has been granting temporary residence permits to very large numbers of Africans fleeing political turmoil, with the understanding that under EU rules, those migrants would then be free to head to France, where most of them would end up on welfare programmes. France decided not to let the migrants in unless they could demonstrate they could financially support themselves. Quite generous of Italy, to offer France's resources like that! (I find it pretty odd that Europe seems committed to high levels of immigration and it's considered a far-right idea to lower the quotas much)

It's a neat time to be alive. We're making artificial retinas and doing science!

Interesting question about feminism and social mobility; has feminism in the workplace harmed men? I could see a good argument for yes, but correcting injustices is not guaranteed to be positive for everyone. Could we sell the idea of abolition to slaveowners? Could we sell the idea of democracy to kings? If men have to deal with more competition because women are finally able to compete on a more even basis with them in the workplace, so be it. It remains the right thing to do, and anyone who has not adjusted to the idea of equality and not being "the breadwinner" should do so. That said, it may be the time to reduce the work week a bit for everyone, as with a more even amount of out-of-house working, house tasks and care for children still need to happen (this time ideally on a more gender-even keel)

Today's the Random Distance Run. My first run of this race was seven years ago. This year will likely be my last unless I'm visiting Pittsburgh at the right time. Like last year, I intend to run this barefoot. I'm not a fantastic runner, but I expect to have a good time.


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