Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Marketplace And Democracy In America

This article describes how the mid-term elections were funded.  Some of the funds were "dark money".  The names of the contributors are not made public.  The other major source of funds is from political action committees.  Both of the political parties received funds from these types of organizations but much more of the funding went to Republican candidates. All of the funds came from very rich individuals and business interests.  In other words, the marketing campaigns for the human products up for sale were designed and paid for by those who can afford to buy political favors.  The US Supreme Court has defended this marketplace by declaring that laws that had prevented the market from operating violated the US Constitution.  Political advertising is a form of free speech according to the Supreme Court.  The consequence is that the wealthy contributors to these organizations have the exorbitant privilege of deciding which politicians are able to run for election. No candidate can run a campaign without their financial support.  They are a barrier to market entry and the size of the barrier increases in relation to the level of spending on political campaigns which has been growing at a rapid pace. Consequently, the candidates who enter the market are free to support the interests of those who enabled them to run for election. There are differences between the candidates who enter the market which reflect the special interests of their major contributors.  There are also many similarities which reflect the common interests of the special interest groups.  Much of the marketing that follows in the election campaigns then takes the form of attack ads on the opposing candidate.  The research that is required to shape the attack ads is also funded by those whose "free speech" has been enhanced by their ability to pay.  The public often gets to select the candidate who they dislike the least.  The differences between the political parties have changed over time but they reflect the changes in campaign funding.  The Democratic Party used to be strong supporters of organized labor.  That support has weakened along with the decline in labor union membership in the US.  The Republican Party has also responded to changes in its political base.  Much of its funding still comes from business interests but they can't win elections without the support of right wing populist groups like the Tea Party.  It has not been easy for the GOP to align those interest groups. 

This is a rather cynical description of politics in America.  Winston Churchill told us that it is not a perfect system but it is better than the alternatives.  My point is that it has become less perfect in America as it has taken on more of the characteristics of an oligopolistic market system. 

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