Friday, April 18, 2014

Throwing money at ideas doesn't make them good

So, the Supreme Court still thinks that money is speech? I see that the Roberts Court has not only repeated this tired idea, but they have strengthened it with language in their ruling to suggest that all campaign finance limits are an infringement of speech. Never mind that Citizens United overturned more than 100 years of jurisprudence already. Early analysis suggests that this is only the beginning of the attack on campaign contribution limits and that many laws will be subject to attack and scrutiny with this ruling.

So lets assume that they're right and that money is speech. The Walton family owns more wealth in this country than the bottom 40%. If money is speech, and they get the laws they want, will they take responsibility when things go wrong?

I have seen first hand, what happens when only a few people get to make the decisions in any group. The outcomes go south for everyone except the proponents of the idea. Consider a contrast in software. Microsoft sells Windows worldwide. Windows is written by a few select programmers within the company. No one gets to see their code outside of the company. Fewer still have any meaningful input into the direction of the development of the software.

Compare that to Linux. Linux is shared code. It runs most of the internet today, the securities exchanges and more than a billion devices worldwide known as smart phones. Anyone who chooses may submit code for use in the Linux Kernel. Every time the code is shared with another person, that person benefits. In terms of the market, Linux has been favored over Windows in almost every sector of the IT industry except a few servers and the typical desktop computer.

Because so many more people had input on the direction of development in Linux than in Windows, Linux can deliver what the people want. The people who manage Windows assume that they know what the people want, but also have their own, pecuniary interests that they hold higher than what the people they serve want.

This is the problem with American politics in general and the latest decision by the Supreme Court. The assumption being made here is that the best ideas will draw the most money. Maybe, maybe not. But if the most money supporting an idea or ideology come from only a few people, with limited experience or exposure to the implementation of those ideas, what incentive do they have to vet the idea to ensure it is sound?

I used to be conservative. I voted for Bush Sr. when I was a young man. I liked Reagan then, too. But after 30 years of watching the middle class slide into oblivion, I've lost my enthusiasm for conservative politics. We have a greater concentration of wealth at the top than many countries which we disdainfully refer to as "banana republics". Most of the conservative pedagogy is really about ideals without much empirical evidence to back it up.

Since Reagan, all I've ever heard from conservatives is that if we lower taxes, more jobs will be created. When the top marginal tax rates dropped to 28% we should have had a boom. We did not. We had a bubble. And another bubble, and another one, each followed by recessions and each became more severe than the last. At the end of the reign Bush Jr., we were losing 800,000 jobs a month. People were losing their houses, losing their retirement, losing their cash flow. The money didn't just disappear. Where did it go? The top 1% got it.

Now that wealth is concentrated in fewer hands than ever before in this country, the billionaires are chomping at the bit to get guys like John Roberts in a position to help them out even more. It's not enough that money can buy the laws needed to concentrate wealth. Now they need courts to affirm those laws just to remind the rest of us that it's too late to save our democracy.

Money is not speech and it will never be. It is time for a constitutional amendment to clarify the matter and Senator Bernie Sanders has proposed one in Congress. Maybe someday, that will become law that the Supreme Court cannot overturn.
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