Mark says we should prohibit the Big Three from lobbying against the public interest. Sadly, that’s almost certainly unconstitutional. Simply firing the executives, not so much.
Mark writes (just below) that if we do bail out some or all of the Big Three, stipulating good reasons to do so, we should pay off the bondholders at the current, very steep discount, and a Michael Corleone offer (“nothing. Not even the fee for the gaming license”) to stockholders. So far, what he said.
But then he goes on to advocate “requiring the companies to fire all their lobbyists and end all their contributions to right-wing causes.” He’s right to point out that corporate managers regularly (and in the case of the Big Three, historically) place their own class advantage above their own companies’ interests, let alone the public’s. But he’s wrong to think there’s something we can do about it.
I count as an expert on political ethics. In my expert opinion, corporate lobbying as a human activity has no redeeming moral qualities. (I’m quite serious about this. I think that most political roles and offices have something to be said about them from the perspective of democratic theory and the virtues that promote democratic performance. But I’ve never written anything about lobbyists’ ethics or their democratic contribution because articles containing zero words are rarely accepted for publication.) However, an activity doesn’t need to have redeeming moral qualities in order to be protected by the First Amendment. (No jokes about religion, please. Unless they’re really good jokes.)
A legal ban on lobbying by any given corporation would be thumpingly unconstitutional. And a bailout made conditional on an end to lobbying would probably be an “unconstitutional condition” (though I’m not ConLawyer enough to be sure–Jonathan, help me out?). Similarly with ending “contributions to right-wing causes.” Corporations are already prohibited from directly funding campaigns; the funding of “causes” goes through foundations, and this too rapidly becomes constitutionally hard to distinguish from funding a library or opera house. One could probably ban any bailed out company from making any charitable contributions–but one couldn’t pick and choose on the basis of the cause contributed to. I’ve actually thought hard about how to get around this. Most of my fantasies involve having some unofficial Obama fixer call up a corporate executive and make the illegal condition–with the intention of denying everything later (yet somehow being able to enforce the secret promise). But then I woke up.
No, lobbying can’t be banned. But those who hire the lobbyists can be thrown out. That Mark’s ruthlessness won’t work only establishes the case for more, and simpler, ruthlessness. This is one more argument for receivership. We can’t give the executives a gag. So there’s nothing left but the sack.
The US presidential race is losing interest for pure election groupies – you can bet on the spread if you like but there’s no real tension. (For partisans it’s different; daily poll porn for the left, circular firing squads for the right. And for campaigners, there’s the grind of actually making it happen – sorry I can’ t help.) So take a look at the other election in Jersey – the original one, population about 100,000, and half of what’s left of Rollo’s and William’s Duchy of Normandy.
It’s time to get medieval on the Bush administration. As England’s parliament found out centuries ago, a time of crisis is precisely the right time to demand from the executive as much as you can think of.
The Bush Administration is claiming that Congress should give it a clean bill setting up their proposed welfare state for financiers. (“Clean bill” is a nicely accurate phrase, being synonymous with “blank check.”) The claim is that the state of crisis requires this. If Congress knows its English history, it will draw the opposite conclusion. A time of crisis, when the executive really wants something, is precisely the time to push the legislature’s demands, on related or unrelated subjects, as far as possible.
The history of England’s parliament is the history of “supply”: a constitutional term familiar in Commonwealth countries but largely forgotten in the U.S. (and that’s a problem). When kings needed more money than their own lands could provide, they had to ask the nobles. When they got tired of asking the nobles, they started to rely on newfangled things called cities and rising social classes called burgesses and knights. Members of these groups were easier to negotiate with collectively than individually. The rest is history: the history of the House of Commons.
The process, as told in Volume II of David Hume’s History of England, wasn’t pretty. It was a matter of the Commons’ slowly finding—and infuriated monarchs gradually admitting—that its position gave it the power of “bargaining with the prince”—precisely in times of war or other crises when the monarch really needed the money. Placing conditions on demands for emergency funds isn’t an abuse of Congress’ power. It’s the whole foundation of Congress’ power.
So: what Jonathan and Mark said. But let’s remember that hardball isn’t just good politics and good policy. It’s the lesson to be drawn from good history.
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