A blupete Essay

Interest Groups, Part 4 to blupete's Essay
"Politics and The Lie of Legitimacy"

While people in a democracy may well categorize themselves as being politically free, they inevitably suffer socially from that subtle and searching oppression which the dominant opinion of a free community may exercise over the members who compose it. Increasingly, however, the oppression is not so subtle. We are all exposed to the dupery of the cunning of people, as the British law reformer and judge, Henry Brougham expressed it, "who don't reflect," "who go about earewigging the powerful ones for their own purposes." The harm of elitist minorities whose goal it is to coerce the dispersed majorities for preferment was recognized earlier on by James Madison when he and others were framing up the constitution of that then fledgling country, the United States:
"By a faction, understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community. ... A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment of different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to cooperate for their common good. But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. ... To secure the public good, and private rights, against the danger of faction, and at the same time to preserve the spirit and form of popular government, is then the great object to which our inquiries are directed."27
"To secure the public good, and private rights, against the danger of faction, and at the same time to preserve the spirit and form of popular government ..." Madison's plumed point is as valid today as when it was made better than two hundred years ago, indeed, the danger, because of the slick communications of the new age, is much more acute than it has ever been before. We are to pity the politician who should offend an interest group, for, next he goes to the polls to keep his seat, there will be a committee at the ready who will make every effort to turn the scales against him. This dependence, this "vote motive," as Bagehot was to observe, "weakens the intellectual influence of Parliament, and of that higher kind of mind of which Parliament ought to be the organ."28 More than ever, now, we see that the "vote motive" is a serious defect in a democratic political system. There is a tendency for each individual group to try to get its own way at the expense of the larger community. The "vote motive" promotes the formation of interest groups who attack, not one another, but, the public at large. Each seek to secure power, directly or indirectly, whereby the group would bind 100% of the citizens over into their ideas (legislation).

Democracy, the theme of it can never wear trite, is called a democracy because it looks to the interest, not of the few, but of the many. It is the sacred duty of an elected assembly, owed to the whole of the population; not to give in to any one of its parts for the sole benefit of that part; and this is to be, no matter how meritorious the cause of that part, as for example, the "rights" of women, or "rights" of aboriginals. There is, unfortunately, however, an inherent tendency of myopic politicians to yield to the organized at the expense of the unorganized. Any decision of any assembly must be in favour of its constituency, viz., the people who brought it into being by the electorial process. A government that is confused about its mandate in this regard falls under the sway of special interest groups.

When politicians fail, usually through sheer ignorance, of seeing to their most important duty, as outlined in the previous paragraph, it becomes the duty of the citizenry to put up a howl. Do we howl when politicians shirk their solemn democratic role, hardly, indeed, great numbers of us are enlisted, by an exaggerated insistence upon the claims of sentiment, in the cause of some particular interest group, notwithstanding, that to sign on to this or that cause is to the very great disadvantage of themselves. Consumers versus producers -- and this is a classic statement in political "science" -- never seem to recognize their collective interests, or, at least, are seemingly unable to put up a common front against that which is plainly going to work against their larger interests. I quote the eminent economist, Arthur Seldon:

"The task is not easy because we all see our producer interest more vividly than our consumer interest. The rewards we can reap by prevailing on government to yield to our request or importunities or demands for 'help' are larger than the immediate losses we suffer as consumers. When farmers, coalminers, teachers, nurses, railwaymen, university professors, polytechnic teachers or government officials ask for and obtain larger subsidies, higher pay, shorter hours, longer holidays or better conditions than they are worth because it is politically expedient to keep them quiet, they gain as producers but lose as consumers in higher taxes or higher prices. But their gain is immediate, apparent and sizeable; their loss is distant, obscure and minuscule.
The results are damaging to democracy. Since the cost of pressurizing government yields a much larger return in producer gains than it imposes in consumer losses, we tend to organize as producers rather than as consumers. But in the end we all lose far more as consumers than we gain as producers: old industries, firms and occupations are kept alive, government is aggrandized, taxes are inflated, the articulate are incited to organize, the citizen is impelled to take to the streets to gain a hearing, parliament is bypassed."

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Peter Landry

2011 (2019)