Monday, May 19, 2008

"What could we do if we broke the power of money in politics?" Asks Mark Kleiman

Assume for the second that November goes well, with a big win for Obama and increased majorities in both Houses. Assume in addition that the Obama money machine can keep cranking even after he becomes President, and can substantially replace the usual big-money interests as a source of campaign funding for Congressional Democrats.

One implication of that ought to be that some popular (and in some cases populist) programs that Democrats have been shying away from since 1974 because they can't afford to lose the donors suddenly become possible.

So what's the list? What is it that the Democrats ought to do that they haven't been doing?

Here's my preliminary agenda. I'd be interested in suggested additions and subtractions. We're looking for stuff that (1) is good policy; (2) appeals to Democratic constituencies and (3) has been hard to do as result of donor power (as opposed to voter power).

Kevin Drum isn't convinced that the power of concentrated interests via campaign finance is going to be markedly reduced. Also Mark Kleiman's first item is
"1. Health care finance reform." making it hard to get to the second.

Oddly my main complaint with the list is that the proposals seem fairly small bore to me. Their characteristic seems to be that a sensible and popular reform is blocked by a very narrow special interest. The second item on my personal list would be very broad

rw1) Make the tax code more progressive.

Polls suggest overwhelming support for this reform (click and search for "thinking about taxes"). Kleiman might believe that it is blocked by concerns about incentive effects of high marginal tax rates, but I don't believe that (nor do I doubt that the reform would cause a huge increase in economic welfare).

I think it is blocked by the power of money. For one thing, large donations come from rich individuals as well as corporations. More importantly, the agents for concentrated interests have huge incomes. Lobbyists and top executives of corporations are rich. I'm sure lobbyists are greedy too (they didn't become lobbyists for the fun of it). They certainly act in their self interest as well as the interests of their principals.

Also what about subsidies to agribusiness. There seems to me to be no reason why farm subsidies are to be paid to people with income from farming up to $ 1.95 million except that they kick back some of the money to their (many) senators and (few) representatives. (*might* be reduced from 2.65 million) "Subsidies to rich farmers" have become McCains favorite proposed budget cut, since he found out that aid to Israel was an earmark.

Finally very narrow bore. Legally requiring expensing of options (gets extra stick it to Joe Lieberman points).

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