Orphan Ideas

When it comes to political influence, money is not everything: ideas play a big role, too. But new ideas, like new drugs, have to pay their way, which means that how widely an idea is diffused depends to a large extent on how much money is at stake.

CHICAGO – Since the United States Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision, which prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations and unions, concern about business interests’ influence over US elections has been growing. But political contributions are only one reason why business interests have so much power. When it comes to lobbying, money is not everything: ideas play a big role, too. Unfortunately, rather than leveling the playing field, the battle of ideas may skew US politics even further in favor of big business.

The importance of ideas can be seen from the simplest things. Congressional bills aimed at benefiting powerful constituencies are generally given appealing (and misleading) names. For example, a tax holiday to repatriate foreign earnings was called the “American Job Creation Act.” It is easier to sell a bill that (allegedly) benefits everyone in society, not just a small group of its most privileged members.

More importantly, the lobbying of the quasi-governmental mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would not have been so successful without the idea of the “ownership society.” How could anyone oppose turning every American into an owner? It is precisely the appeal of such ideas that can make them so dangerous politically.

We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.

To continue reading, subscribe now.

Subscribe

Get unlimited access to PS premium content, including in-depth commentaries, book reviews, exclusive interviews, On Point, the Big Picture, the PS Archive, and our annual year-ahead magazine.

http://prosyn.org/obtzQMK;
  1. solana105_JUANMABROMATAAFPGettyImages Juan Mabromata/AFP/Getty Images

    The Lost Spirit of the G20

    Javier Solana

    As Japan prepares to host its first G20 leaders’ summit later this month, little remains of the open and cooperative spirit that marked the first such gathering in 2008. But although the United States will most likely continue its protectionist drift, other G20 countries should use the occasion to make a clear case for free trade.

  2. velasco94_YoustGettyImages_headswithbooksstaring Youst/Getty Images

    The Experts We Need

    Andrés Velasco

    Policy gurus spend too much time with others like them – top civil servants, high-flying journalists, successful businesspeople – and too little time with ordinary voters. If they could become “humble, competent people on a level with dentists,” as John Maynard Keynes once suggested, voters might identify with them and find them trustworthy.

  3. benami152_KiyoshiOtaPoolGettyImages_trumpmelaniaeatinginJapan Kiyoshi Ota - Pool/Getty Images

    Don’t Feed the Donald

    Shlomo Ben-Ami

    For Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, appeasing US President Donald Trump is not so much a choice as a necessity: he must prove to Japan’s people and their neighbors, particularly the Chinese, that he knows how to keep Trump on his side. But Abe's strategy won't work with a US administration as fickle and self-serving as Trump’s.

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated cookie policy and privacy policy.