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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The new spoils system


Mark Thoma, on Economist’s View, has posed the question, one he often refers to: why are politicians (American politicians) so indifferent to the employment problem? Meanwhile, Mark Stoller, on Naked Capitalism, has a postabout the present good fortunes of ex President Clinton and our current spoilssystem – which differs from the old spoils system in that the spoils aren’t enjoyed concurrently with one’s stint in office, but afterwards.
 
I think the Stoller post supplies some answer to the Thoma post.

If you have a return to the pre-1929 distribution of industry, and you add to that the shrinking of the unionized part of the labor force to 1910 levels, then you get lack of concern about unemployment.
A good question might be: why should politicians be concerned about unemployment?
The unemployed, I think it is safe to say, don't have the resources to lobby much, or to make available rentseeking opportunities for politicians in the case they are voted out of office, or their families while in office.
In the nineteeth century, the cheapness of the legal/political sector in America was known to every robber baron, and to the population at large. Chapters of Erie, the book by Charles and Henry Adams, has many comic illustrations of the Vanderbilt or the Gould parties buying state legislators and judges as part of the cost of business.
In the twentieth century, countervailing forces created, for a while a set of tacit norms and enforced rules that made this harder. Watergate, for instance, was driven by the fact that CREEP, the committee to re-elect Nixon, had violated these rules and needed to hide it. This would be unthinkable now. Because Creep was so innocent. A vanity candidacy financed solely by a billionaire is now just part of the view out of the window - nobody is shocked.
The two parties exist, for the most part, to raise the price on bribery. They do a very good job for their elites. The journalists, who can have their faces rubbed into a fact and will still not see it, report on this as though the whole system was driven by campaign financing. This is a pretty fiction. It is really driven by massive elite peculation. Sure, to a certain extent, to position yourself for the big money from lobbying or being absorbed into some corporate borg, you do have to get elected. And certain vain or lazy people may even limit their ambition to political office. But, in the main, elected office only gives one a force that can be sold in any number of ways to enrich one's family and friends, and that is what politics is about. Politics reflects the state of the society, and in this society, being wealthy is everything, and the rest are, at best, consumers, and at worst, losers. It is hard, at the millionaire level, to make petty distinctions between the employed and the unemployed loser. And unlike the 19th century, where the face to face dimension of politics spread bribes and actually activated certain figures to fight for an ideal (a hopelessly hokey idea today), we now have a facebook-to-facebook dimension, which has no organized power and distrusts anyone who tries to organize it - after all, that could mean jail or being accused of being a "terrorist" in the press.
Unemployment, as a political issue, is now among the dodos, like the issue of overcapitalized stock and the like. Nobody cares.

4 comments:

Deb S. said...

I found your blog after reading this comment over at Mark Thoma's Economists View. Very glad I did!

Ed said...

I think Yves Smith and crew at Naked Capitalism and Steve Sailer -I realize this is a strange pairing- are the only commentators I know of who have pointed out the obvious, that one of the reasons for this mess has been really massive corruption at the top.

roger said...

That is a strange pairing, Ed - and I'd be just as happy not to be part of any threesome involving Steve Sailer! But - to the issue - what is truly striking, to me, is how the corruption is framed. Essentially, good men and women want to serve in Congress and do their darn best, but this here political campaigning takes money. That framing is like a child's view of human motives and political history. But though the press and media want to infantilize their audience, the audience, I think, is not fooled. They are, at the moment, preoccupied with surviving themselves, which is why there is so little pushback.

roger said...

Thanks Deb!