I recently had occasion to consider a subject too often overlooked, which forms in no small part the foundation of all politics. It does so because it is at the heart of all human motivations.
One might say, without it, there is no such thing as motivation. It is the question of value.
While this is in some portion closely related to our talk from Episode 6, it ought not be mistaken for a purely economic phenomenon. Value is central to all human relationships, not the least of which are those we define as political. Value is often mistaken as money, or objects exchangeable for money. Services, as well. though too often too narrowly defined.
Elsewhere, I had a lengthy conversation with a very interesting gentleman who said we needed to get money out of our politics. This is a popular enough idea, and given the rampant criminality in our government, you can understand how one would be drawn to it.
His suggestion was that, based upon a certain degree of popular support, as evidenced by petition signatures, a person or party would gain access to public resources to spend on a political campaign. It necessarily follows from this that, no other political spending is permissible, and in this way, goes the theory, we get money out of politics. And, goes the theory, in this way, we reduce corruption in government.
OK. Fine theory. Let us consider the practice.
It might go without saying that politicians are beholden to those who finance their campaigns. Owing to the obviousness of this, in the United States, there are very significant limitations on what one can donate to a candidate for federal office. Theory being, if you limit what any one person can spend on political campaigns, you can limit that individual’s influence, and thereby make the society more democratic by spreading power more evenly among the populace.
According to the Federal Elections Commission, an individual may donate no more than $3,300 to any candidate for public office in a given election. He may also donate up to $5,000 per year to any SuperPAC, a combined total of $10,000 per year to any “state/district/local” Party committee, $41,300 to any national party, and “$123,900* per account, per year” to any “Additional national party committee accounts”. That last one sounds like a bit of a loophole, but these are by no means uncommon and, as we’ll discuss, ultimately unavoidable. Similar though not identical limits apply regarding transfers from committees to candidates.
Corporations, you might have heard, can spend unlimited funds on political campaigns. You might have heard this, because Democrats are liars and lots of people are ignorant. Corporations are prohibited under federal law from contributing money to politicians.
This popular myth stems from the Supreme Court case known as Citizens United, in which a private entity made a film critical of Hillary Clinton. They were sued for violating campaign finance law under the theory that one may not spend money to make political statements on their own volition. Rightly, the filmmakers prevailed, and ever since then we have been hearing about corporate campaign contributions as if they were a real thing. They are not.
There is also something known as the “in kind contribution”. In this, if say, a landlord, provides rent free office space to a candidate’s committee, this must be recorded as a campaign contribution, by calculating the value of the rent and recording it much the way they would had he written a check for that amount.
With all these limits, why is it popularly believed that billionaires and corporations are buying politicians?
Well, because they are, firstly. These limitations are fake, fundamentally, and not because the law isn’t enforced. If Pfizer writes a check to Joe Biden, somebody is going to get in trouble. If I donate $3,400 to Donald Trump, I’m going to get a $100 refund quickly, whether I like it or not. But if Pfizer pays CNN millions of dollars for advertising, and CNN demonizes Biden’s opponents while covering up Joe Biden’s many crimes, then this is not considered a campaign contribution. It’s just dishonest media, which Americans consider one of those “blessings of liberty” along with drag queen story hour. If Pfizer chooses not to advertise on Tucker Carlson because they dislike the political positions he espouses, no law requires them to spend advertising dollars where they do not se fit to.
Freedom of speech, be though it may, a questionable value, is valued by most Americans. The idea that money is somehow separable from this is based in large part on our misconceptions of value, though one might argue it is more an intentional deception by the powerful, seeking to avoid being criticized too loudly.
Say a man buys no advertisements, but covers his car in his favored candidate’s bumper stickers and drives around the country singing the man’s praises. Is his fuel expenditure a campaign contribution? Shall we prohibit him from doing this in order to get money out of politics?
To be clear, as many of you know, I am not an advocate of free speech. I believe men of good character ought be free to speak the truth as they see it, and to discover and correct their errors through debate. But I am perfectly fine with imprisoning communists and gender fanatics for spreading lies, and while I don’t favor any barrier to being recognized as a news agency, I am all for locking up self styled reporters who poison the minds of the population for short sighted political gain. I’m not making an argument for free speech, only for recognizing that money and speech are inseparable because speech is valuable, and money exists to facilitate the storage and transmission of value.
And at the end of the day, you can transfer as much value as you want to anyone you want, limited only by your access thereto. You just have to label it something other than a campaign contribution. The example above of Pfizer purchasing advertisements is only the most obvious example of washing campaign contributions in this way.
While one may only donate so much to a political campaign, one may donate as much as he likes, in tax deductible fashion, to a 501(c) organization. A 501(c) organization is prohibited by law from endorsing candidates, but they are more than welcome to champion causes of political significance, and especially on the Left, they do this all the time. Mark Zuckerberg’s Center for Tech and Civic Life, notably, is a 501(c) organization, and they deployed their resources ostensibly to increase ballot access. Where did they do this? Well, disproportionately in Democrat prone districts, of course. Their list of election interference operations is too long to get into today, but if you read Molly Hemingway’s book “Rigged”, you’ll be shocked at their behavior. There’s countless such foundations, whether ostensibly dedicated to fighting racism or advancing abortion under the guise of women’s rights or transgenderism or you name it, that serve as vehicles for criminals to influence government by washing tax free money into political influence.
Then of course there are what is known as “speaking fees” which I’ve always found amusing. These people are politicians. They buy advertisements. They pay to get people to listen to them. But if you want to pay them to speak at your event, that is just business, not a campaign contribution, interestingly. If you are someone who is normally paid a great deal of money to speak, but you speak for free on a man’s behalf, well, that’s just a little bit of free speech, not a campaign contribution.
Book deals, other forms of business, none of these things are campaign contributions, and so it should come as no surprise that people who run for office often publish a book right before they do.
To get money out of politics, would we say that there could be no non-profit organizations which discuss anything of political significance? Should book publishers have a prohibition on publishing the words of political actors? Would such a prohibition have anything resembling enforceability? I have my doubts.
You’ll hear me say from time to time, there is no substitute for good people. There is no form of government that can make up for a population of fools or crooks. Impose upon them a righteous King, and they will defy him, give them a vote, and the government will carry out their foolish and crooked wishes.
It was said at the time of our Constitution’s ratification, that it was fit only for a moral and religious people, and the only problem with that statement is the idea that there might be some form of government fit for any other type.
The only thing campaign finance regulations do is reward dishonest people by making it more difficult for honest people to compete. Honest people, first of all tend to lack the capacity to make outsized campaign contributions, but among the few who are so gifted, they simply obey the law in both letter and spirit. They do not tend to look for creative ways to subvert the law.
Criminals do, and that, my friends, is why money influences your politics in such caustic fashion.
Speaking of moral and religious people, let us consider something more nuanced than political influence.
Some of you may know if you follow me on Telegram or Gab, that I attended Church yesterday for the first time in six years. I was very conflicted about this, because I do not share the beliefs of the congregants.
On this show, and elsewhere, it is not at all infrequent that I touch on subject matter that has relevance to religious people. When I do this, you might notice I uniformly make some mention of my own lack of faith, and this is by no means because I want to distance myself from religious people. Actually, this stems from my certainty that I stand to derive a great deal of value from such an association, and because I am not owed this value, I do not want to obtain it by deceptive omission. I have an ethical concern that I do not want to take advantage of religious people by soliciting donations from them after they have been allowed to make faulty inferences from other things I have said. Some Christians in this audience have nonetheless been very generous with me, and it is not at all infrequent that they invoke the Lord when they do. I am more than capable of discerning incentives from this, and I am cautious not to take advantage of them.
But of course, value is more than donations. I’ve mentioned before that, people have called into my other show saying I should go to church to find a wife, and I thought this would be a very disreputable thing for me to do. What could be more valuable than that?
My attendance yesterday was not spontaneous. A local friend has invited me to go several times and I have declined each time stating a number of reasons, but most notably that I would obtain undeserved benefits. I was recently at a social gathering with this friend, and her other friends from the church were there and they extended a similar invitation. I expressed to them these concerns, and they assured me that I’d be committing no wrong by attending, so I accepted.
But I had some awareness that this was not so simple as it was being made out to be, and this was promptly confirmed after the conclusion of the services.
I was met with invitations to social gatherings, notably. That’s valuable, I’d say, though fortunately for me this was by people who understood to some degree my conflict, so I didn’t have to worry so much about saying “Well, you should know I don’t believe the things you believe”.
But I also got the not at all subtle hint that they believed they might get me to so believe, and this had its own conflict. Having done some sales work in the past, I would not waste a salesman’s time. It is very valuable. I have substantially less experience with pedaling a religion, but I do not presume the time of those so invested to be worthless.
And yet, I do not think I should disrespect them by refusing to listen to what they have to say. Especially when they are so over the top kind as the types I ran into yesterday. And, importantly, I do not claim to know all things which I have not seen or experienced. I cannot verify the absence of God anymore than I can his existence, because my knowledge of the universe is decidedly limited even in those fields I can without guilt call myself an expert in. I learn new things every day. These lessons are in some cases world changing, and I would not for one second think it prudent to wall myself off from new information.
But as a consequence of not having built such walls, I have read the bible no fewer than three times. I have read C.S. Lewis, and William Lane Craig, and Bishop Kallistos Ware, and attended religious study as a child. I have watched YouTube videos of Christians debating atheists, and cheered for both sides at different times of my life. I have also read atheist books, and found them rather dissatisfying, and none of these things have caused me to suspect that there is anything that could be recognized as a God, much less one that proves the doctrines I have studied.
And so, I am made to contemplate the ethics of allowing these folks to make their advances. Am I depriving them of value by taking up time of theirs that could be better spent? Or would I be disrespecting them by showing them the respect I would a salesman?
Returning to the example of the search for a wife, I brought this up to my new friends specifically. They said, well, of course I should not do such a thing, but there is no harm to come to a gathering. Well, though I did not belabor the point then, I am the type to think four moves ahead, and so, let’s game this out.
Attend the gathering, meet new people, treat them with respect, in all likelihood develop warm relations with them, something I would certainly deem valuable.
Get invited to dinner. Well, that’s a valuable thing indeed, though perhaps I can offset this by bringing a bottle of wine or other token of my gratitude.
Do I meet a woman in the course of this? Does she find me charming? Do I find her attractive? All valuable things.
Shall I refuse to be near a beautiful woman? Shall I be near her but refuse to hear of her religious views? Shall I refuse her invitations to events? Shall I stop short only of marriage? Or should I stop before we kiss?
I’d say there’s a lot of value being exchanged well before we get to that point.
Value is the satisfaction of human wants, or the alleviation of human discomfort. One cannot always measure it in dollars, and even for those things we can, it is often an imperfect measurement. I am the last person who would tell you that money is irrelevant, or bad, or anything of that nature. I fancy myself an economist and a monetary theorist, so such a thought would not cross my mind.
Rather, I illustrate this to point out that focusing on money as the source of trouble is a silly exercise. There is no substitute for good people. If people are inclined toward corrupt acquisition, money is only the means by which we measure their corruption, and we obtain no benefit from removing the unit of measure from the equation.
Whether we are talking politics, religion, friendships, or sex, value is being exchanged constantly, and the only way to make those exchanges more satisfying is to transact with decent people.
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