Monday, March 1, 2010

No, Mr. Allard, we do not need more lobbyists

Nick Allard heads the government affairs (lobbying) practice and Patton Boggs. He wrote an opinion piece for Newsweek stating that what America needs right now is more lobbyists. He makes the assertion that the poor and under-represented need expert representation in Congress because the wealthy will always have access to Congress that others do not. He states, "Lobbying provides a check on undue influence, power, and favoritism." I disagree. Lobbying is the cause of undue influence, power, and favoritism in Government. It is also a large reason that the poor and under represented are on the outside looking in. You need look no further for proof of this than the admission from one of Washington's biggest lobbying names, Gerald Cassidy. In an interview with the Washington Post Cassidy stated, "I refuse to argue the obvious. ... It's just true, largely because they [the poor] have less representation. You look at the movements out there, there is no anti-hunger movement, there is no committee on the Hill looking into poverty."

But don't be fooled, Allard's assertion is the tried and true lobbying trick of causing a problem and then stepping forward to fix it…for a fee. While Mr. Allard is trying to craft lobbyists as defenders of good government, I cannot think of a single group that has caused more damage to the fabric of the democratic process. Henry Hazlitt, the author of Economics in One Lesson, sums up the lobbying profession and the damage it causes to both the political process and economic stability:

"While every group has certain economic interests identical with those of all groups, every group has also, as we shall see, interests antagonistic to those of all other groups. While certain public policies would in the long run benefit everybody, other policies would benefit one group only at the expense of all other groups. The group that would benefit by such policies, having such a direct interest in them, will argue for them plausibly and persistently. It will hire the best buyable minds to devote their whole time to presenting its case. And it will finally either convince the general public that its case is sound, or so befuddle it that clear thinking on the subject becomes next to impossible.

In addition to these endless pleadings of self-interest, there is a second main factor that spawns new economic fallacies every day. This is the persistent tendency of men to see only the immediate effects of a given policy, or its effects only on a special group, and to neglect to inquire what the long-run effects of that policy will be not only on that special group but on all groups. It is the fallacy of overlooking secondary consequences.

In this lies the whole difference between good economics and bad. The bad economist sees only what immediately strikes the eye; the good economist also looks beyond. The bad economist sees only the direct consequences of a proposed course; the good economist looks also at the longer and indirect consequences. The bad economist sees only what the effect of a given policy has been or will be on one particular group; the good economist inquires also what the effect of the policy will be on all groups."

In short, lobbying both fuels and feeds off poor economic policy, because lobbying is not about advocacy it is about achieving short term success through buying and selling public officials. What were those famous words spoken by Gordon Gekko? Oh yes that's right, "greed is good," the mantra of K street.

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