Corrupt Constitutions

Old News #1, Monday, May 11th 2015: The Introduction

Old News on is where I make comments and attempt to be analytical about things that are happening around the world as they come to me. I get the vast majority of my news from the internet, and the rest I get through word of mouth and from just navigating my current city of Berlin.

For this first Old News article, I wanted to comment on a video that I recently saw posted on Facebook via The Young Turks network:

Corruption is Legal in America

The actual video was produced by Represent.Us which is an anti-corruption organization in and for the United States.

Now mostly, the video is a promotion of their agenda. And a great agenda it is–make corruption in the US government illegal.

Now, if you didn’t watch the video above, you might be saying to yourself, Is corruption actually legal in the US? It sounds like an absurdity. But the video makes a very solid argument.

They refer to a Princeton University study that took “more than twenty years worth of data” to answer what the video presenter refers to as a “pretty simple question.”

Does the government represent the people?

To me, it’s not such a simple question. But they present it in simple enough terms, so I will give them that. They present us with a line graph of the ideal model by which a republic creates its laws. I have to mention here that for me, this ideal is sort of subjective. Whose ideal is it? It seems fair enough to me, so I have chosen to ignore it for the purposes of this article. Back to the graph.

The x-axis represents public support for any given proposed law (bill), and the y-axis represents the likelihood that the given bill will be become a law. The ideal is represented by a line with a slope of 1. This means that if a given law has 80% support of the public, then it will have an 80% chance of becoming law. Like I said before, fair enough.

But regardless of this ideal, the interesting data that the video presents to us is the actual model of how the US creates its laws. It tells us that no matter how popular a law is, it always has a 30% chance of becoming law. That is, as the value of the x-axis goes from zero to one hundred percent, the y-axis does not change. That’s a slope of 0.

Sounds pretty bad, right? It gets worse. That 30% chance only applies to the “bottom 90% of income earners” in the US. They then show us a line that is much closer to the ideal. That line is for the richest people in the country–those that can afford lobbyists (lawyers) to push for laws that these richest people want.

What does this mean for the people of the US? It means that no matter how popular a bill is in the American public (i.e. the lower 90%), if the richest people do not want it, they can block it completely.

In short, influence over the government depends on how much money you put into it. Votes don’t matter. Public opinion doesn’t matter. Money matters.

The rest of the video goes into an example of this, and for that alone, I suggest you watch it. But I won’t go into detail about that.

The video brings up many questions for me. I am skeptical about any position that is presented as being so “simple.” If we take this video at pure face value, it would seem that positive change in US law is impossible. Yet, laws do change in the US. It leads me to wonder, how? My speculation is that other paid lobbyists who represent the majority of public opinion fight for laws as well. But isn’t that what the government is supposed to do? Aren’t politicians elected to represent the majority of their constituency? I would say, yes.

So what does that mean? It means that professional lobbyists are doing the job that our government is already paid to do. Basically, the government is outsourced to a bunch of lawyers. This is great for lawyers, but bad for the rest of us.

If you haven’t guessed, the video is promoting what is commonly referred to as campaign finance reform or taking the money out of politics. Personally, I think that it is long overdue. It has always been obvious that “donations” to a politician’s campaign are simply bribes.

Why would a rich person who does everything in their power to keep as much wealth as possible regardless of the negative impact on the world decide to just give money away? They don’t. They are paying for influence. Politicians sell their favor to the highest bidder.

If you don’t think so, watch the video. Although I don’t like their over-simplification of the topic, I do support the idea of taking money out of politics.

A final comment: I love how this video takes that old cartoon How a Bill Becomes a Law and applies to it the data from the aforementioned Princeton University study–which you should read, and so should I.