Wednesday, February 25, 2004

What happens if I do this?

Report from the Front
February 25, 2004

Special Interests or the Special Use of Force?
By Edward Hudgins
Washington Director
The Objectivist Center

Denouncing special interests is all the rage on the current election landscape.
Each candidate accuses the others of wanting to give benefits to some unfairly
favored group at the expense of others. The sheer hypocrisy of all candidates
reflects an even deeper truth about the system that they all support.

Ralph Nader has entered the presidential race vowing to fight the special
interest groups that pay money for special favors from Washington. Of course,
Nader does not consider it a special favor to him and his Green friends when the
federal government prohibits property owners from using their own land in ways
they think are not friendly to the environment. Nor does he see himself as an
agent of corruption when he urges the federal government to prohibit people from
buying products of which he disapproves. But he denounces businesses that
manufacture those products, and that hire lobbyists to keep those products
legal, for subverting the will of the people.

Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean denounced John Kerry, his chief rival for
the Democratic presidential nomination, as the recipient of more special
interest money than any other candidate. But Dean no doubt does not treat as a
special benefit the federal government’s milk program, which looks to have been
designed by Soviet planners and mafia dons. That program helps dairy farmers in
Dean’s native Vermont get higher prices for their products, at the expense of
consumers, by threatening to throw competitors who charge lower prices in jail.

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) denounces those big corporations that contribute to
President Bush and the Republicans. But Kerry doesn’t think he’s doing anything
“special” when he blocks all efforts by Congress to rein in the “Big Dig,” a $15
billion pork barrel road project that is a bonanza for Kerry’s constituents as
well as contractors and unions in his state -- at the expense of taxpayers in
the other 49 states.

Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) has called Kerry on his special interest hypocrisy. Of
course a substantial part of Edward’s campaign funds comes from predatory
plaintiff’s attorneys, many of whom are ambulance-chasers who pervert our system
of laws in order to shake down businesses -- or any other “deep pockets” --
with nuisance lawsuits that enrich them at the expense of producers and

And yes, the many Republicans do, as Democrats charge, use the government to
protect or funnel special support to their business friends.

All of this wailing and gnashing of teeth over special interests evades the
fundamental premise of a free society, the premise best articulated by Ayn Rand:
“There is no conflict of interests of men who do not desire the unearned, who do
not make sacrifices or accept them, who deal with one another as traders, giving
value for value.” When governments stick to their proper functions of protecting
the life, liberty and property of citizens, no conflicts arise. All individuals
who seek rational goals benefit by living under objective laws that preserve
their rights.

Special interest groups that benefit at the expense of others are created by
government when it uses force to limit the private use of property, private
contracts between consenting individuals, or private behavior that does not
violate the equal rights of others. In such a system, raw political power rather
than production and trade become the coin of the realm. Politicians compete to
see who can promise one group more of another group’s money or freedom while
denouncing their victims as “special interests.”

As Rand observed, in such a system political manipulators set up “new conflicts,
such as ethnic minorities against the majority, the young against the old, the
old against the middle, women against men, even welfare-recipients against the
self-supporting.” And she was right on the mark when she said that in such a
system, “a legislator’s job consists in sacrificing some men to others. No
matter what choice he makes, no choice of this kind can be morally justified.”

If politicians – especially Republicans who claim to stand for limited
government -- were sincere in their concern about interest group influence in
Washington, they would point out that it is because government has the power to
crush an industry with the stroke of a regulator’s pen or with a new tax, and to
enrich one group with loot taken from others, that interest group conflict
reigns. They would declare it their aim to roll back political power, to prevent
government from running the lives and managing the wealth and property of
individuals. And they would declare that the only moral system appropriate for
men is one in which individuals use reason to produce goods and services for
exchange with one another rather than using force backed by government to steal.

The Objectivist Center is a national not-for-profit think tank promoting the
values of reason, individualism, freedom and achievement in American culture.
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