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Mike Roberts

Great reality check, Dave, but I'm struggling with the sociality bit. If the sociality is not greased by money, how big of a problem would it be? If the politicians can't get inexorably drawn into donors' social circles, aren't they less likely to do so?

Dave Cohen


Even if you take away the money, altruistic motivations in politicians (or anyone else for that matter) are very hard to come by. Social motives and self-interest will still predominate.

So it comes down the person in question.

Thanks for posting. DOTE can be a lonely place.


-- Dave

Jeremy M

I'd like to comment more, but this can be an intimidating place, and I don't want to to contribute generic and unoriginal comments.


Have to disagree with one point here, Dave. The real problem is that it actually isn't possible to "take money out of politics" and still have free speech consistent with the First Amendment. The US Supreme Court has rightly held that to "speak" in any way that matters (TV, print, broadcast, internet advertising) requires spending money. This is why money = speech.

And while we can limit individual donations to candidates (and direct corporate donations are forbidden),"independent expenditures" that "speak" for or against candidates are something that we can't regulate without diminishing our free speech (read: political speech) rights (see Buckley v. Valeo).

And even if money was "removed" from the election process (which would either mean that no one could advertise or produce "political speech", not very democratic!), and the government paid for all elections and voter education, incumbents/industry leaders in every field have far more resources to lobby Congress and influence the administrative rulemaking process than small business and certainly more than average folks, or public interest minded nonprofits.

These days, most lawmaking happens through the administrative rulemaking process, which is ultimately subject to rewrite (and lobbying) at OIRA (in what has become an expansive use of power by the Executive branch to shift power away from agency heads, particularly under Cass Sunstein).

The best we can come up with is a system where if candidates raise enough small dollar donations that they would get matching (or several times more) the value in government funds to use in their campaigns. But, of course, that would require an act of Congress - the same folks elected in a system that rewards fundraising from people with the most money.

John Hemington

Wonderful Post Dave, as usual!


"...altruistic motivations in politicians (or anyone else for that matter) are very hard to come by. Social motives and self-interest will still predominate."

Bingo!! Moreover, THAT is a "street" that works both ways. For instance, has anyone else found it exceedingly difficult to even "find" a new "friend," I mean without said "target" being obvious about expecting more from you than "mere friendship?" (Note, I'm not even sure what that last term "means" anymore to anyone else. I still have a firm "definition" of it, myself, but I haven't found ANYONE else, over more than 2 decades, that seems to have a congruent perspective.) Furthermore, how many people have "approached" any of you, dear blogger and commentators, in "friendship," i.e. without any ulterior motives? Hell, is it even possible for anyone, including any of "us," to NOT have "ulterior motives" in the 21st century? BTW, if anyone has not seen "Silicon Valley" on HBO (or elsewhere?), I highly recommend it as being MOST "instructive" regarding the "ways of the world." There's no way "out" save one, and it ain't gonna' be "pretty."

Dave Cohen

Quoting myself --

Character then becomes the issue. What kind of person are we dealing with? What does this person do for a living? A politician can be known through his social connections. Who are his friends? Who are his trusted associates? Who does he do business with? You know a person by the company he or she keeps.

Think FDR in the 30's and 40's. A politician? Sure! Corrupt? You betcha! But whose side was he on? We know the answer.

-- Dave


The revolving door has always existed, and yet Michael Milken somehow went to jail just one generation ago. It would appear that the revolving door is not the decisive factor in whether financial crimes get prosecuted.

Recently SciAm printed an editorial blaming human evolution for what it described as a recent epidemic of police violence in America. Apparently the human race only just evolved recently, and only lives in America.

Mike Cooper

I don't understand how anyone can say that either Obama or Hillary are not corrupt, except by the use of Flatland denial of the facts. I mean, they've taken big money and in return have blatantly done things in the favour of those who donated.

The question that raises for me is, how corrupt is Bernie? I'm looking at this from the other side of the Pond, so I don't know a huge amount about him. But I've read that he's not taking big corporate money, is that right? Is he really driven by his own personal ideology and desire to serve?


Sorry, Dave, but such beings are far too rare, far too disinterested in what appears to be a collective desire toward self-destruction and suffering, to step forward and willingly accept martyrdom for a species too callow, frightened and foolish to see salvation when it looks them straight in the face. They aren't interested in saving humanity from itself. What exactly would be the point?


I wanna say shift away from representative democracy wherein our various representatives are easily seized and corrupted to betray those they represent to a more direct form of democracy without the smooth talking and conniving middle men, but giving more power to the average ignoramt american dullard is likely a far more disastrous alternative and ultimately a pipe dream...


@T.J.: I agree wholeheartedly with your conclusion, which means that the opposite must be true (or at the very least more plausible): a single, true leader who lives an example that the "dullards," to quote your apt assessment, can learn from and emulate would be ideal, although I know of none in our history who have assumed a role of such great power without succumbing to the corrupting influences of such power. After all, when you consolidate such power in a single being, there is a material structure that forms around it that becomes something of a "gravitational" effect toward extravagance and excess, which can simply be called wastefulness of resources. A leader cannot expect his or her subjects to make due with less simply because they are not calling the shots. Ideally, after all, we are all contributing in whatever roles best suit our skills. A leader worthy of the power the people place in him would need to possess the wisdom to do what needed to be done and have the support systems in place that would explain the reasoning behind such actions (because any such leader would need to take extreme measures to save us from ourselves at this point) and quell any uprisings by those who objected to having their "rights" violated - I use quotes because I fail to see how any species can lay claim to any rights whatsoever, in relation to its own species or over the planet, when said planet is collapsing under the strain of increasingly bad decisions made across every facet of human existence. Our degradation is directly tied to a lack of exceptional leadership. Philosopher kings, after all, are not in demand and even if they were, good ones (those with the ability to administer the kind of non-anthropocentric wisdom so desperately needed right now) would be much less prevalent than those who merely talk a good game but are as corrupt as the next person (Hitler, etc.).


You can't change the way we are led or arrange ourselves socially, just as you can't change human nature.

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