*Sorry guys. I’m still trying to finish the novel, and there’s other stuff happening that is making life confusing. Not bad but confusing. Thanks to everyone who is supporting this novel-finishing effort by sending me (GOOD) guest posts. You guys are the best- SAH*
It’s Mostly About the Money A Guest Post By Confutus
A couple of years ago on the Arizona Ballot, there was a voter initiative dealing with some school choice matter. As I looked through it, trying to evaluate the pro and con arguments, I noticed something interesting. The con arguments, which were full of dire warnings about the fate of the public education system if this initiative passed, were chiefly authored by a teacher’s union here, a school board there, the employees of a school district somewhere else. In Arizona, tax money for the schools is doled out mostly on the basis of enrollment; so much per student. Ohoh, I thought, if students leave the public schools for some kind of private education, it’s a direct hit to their income. So, without peering into my crystal ball to predict the future, I could at least predict who would oppose the measure and who would support it.
Higher Education? Likewise. Professors and researchers must not only publish or perish, but they must bring in grant money or other funding to the department to finance their research. Although the ideal of dispassionate, disinterested searchers for knowledge who freely exchange views is a wonderful myth, it is often exactly a myth. More often, it’s “he who pays the piper calls the tune” when tenure and reputation are on the line. In scientific disputes, if you can’t follow the science, follow the money. And no, it isn’t the oil companies that generate most of it.
It works the same way in religion. Whether it was Christians versus Jews in the 1st century, or Christians versus Roman Imperial worship, Catholics versus Orthodox, or Protestants versus Catholics in the Reformation, the most important arguments, wonderful and marvelous though they may have been, were not theological. The bloodiest battles were about money flow to and through temples and churches and who would control it. Even today, poaching of parishioners who pay the pastors is likely to result in sectarian animosity.
What about business? But of course, and quite openly. Businesses work to maintain or grow market share and stifle the competition. Some economics consider this heathy provided there is opportunity for entry into the market, but the business that is losing customers to the competition may have a decidedly different point of view. Our hostess pointed out that without intending to, the campaign to restore popular taste to Science Fiction became a threat to the incomes of those who were looking more for literary recognition.
News coverage? Same. Speaking of newspapers, although some organizations try to enforce a separation between the advertising division and the news division, if no one reads the paper, they usually don’t read the ads, either. The sensational gets the most eyes. Well, there are the bargain shoppers who read only the ads and coupons, but the newspaper still gets paid. The funding model has shifted from column inches of print to internet clicks, but the fact that the news is revenue driven hasn’t changed. TV and radio are variants of the same thing: No viewers or listeners, no ad sales, but it’s the ads, not the news, that pay the bills.
What about governments? If one considers voters as a form of currency, it works there too. Political parties and candidates succeed or fail according to how many votes they can attract.
More important than this, though, is publicity. I observed way back in high school student government elections that usually the person with the most name recognition won, regardless of qualifications. That meant that the person with the largest, most numerous, or eye-catching signs and slogans did the best. Once I graduated from high school, the same pattern appeared. In serious adult elections, the wealth of a campaign is determined by the number of donors and patrons the candidate can gather. There’s a snowball effect: The more one has, the more one can get. Candidates form entire networks of supporters. In turn, publicity, in the form of advertising, can usually be bought. Sadly and cynically, it’s seldom the best qualified who win elections. It’s those with the broadest network of supporters and the deepest pockets. It doesn’t always happen that way: A hardworking candidate with a good public face, and lots of luck, can occasionally overturn an incumbent with deep pockets but a bad reputation. But that’s the way to bet. Longstanding political observers and consultants know all this, of course, and talk about it much more than they do public issues.
The information on whether a person is a good representative is probably best determined by how they vote on matters of public record. This is public information. However, it will not be spoon-fed to anyone. A candidate is most likely to boast about a few public highlights (and, of course, they will remain silent about any negatives in their own record, while their opponents trumpet them to the skies.) Good information is mostly dry and boring and it is necessary to dig for it.
And this is before we even mention government agency turf wars and who gets how much of the budget and whether it is more or less than last year’s.
An author I used to follow once claimed that if you overwatered an education system with money, you grew, not teachers, but bureaucrats. It is no accident that the growth of the Federal Bureaucracy can be traced in large measure to 1913 and the 16th Amendment which allowed the income tax.
It is considered crass to point out that those who dole out money from the public treasury are essentially buying votes, but in effect, that is exactly what they are doing. Republicans and Democrats both do this: They just have different favorite constituent groups. It appears that the Democrats have slightly the more numerous constituents, who are notably concentrated in the larger cities where the largest media markets are. This is probably not coincidence.
One of the greatest sources of dismay among political conservatives is the consistent failure of the Republican party to make any significant check on the bureaucratic state. Reagan tried and couldn’t do it. Newt Gingrich, in Congress, probably came closest to success, and Clinton then claimed credit for balancing the budget. Neither President Bush tried very hard. Donald Trump threatened the bureaucratic state but was too embattled and too often betrayed by his nominal subordinates and appointees to accomplish much. A balanced federal budget was not something he ever promised. The Democrat party…pfft. Tax and spend is their lifeblood.
At this point, I’m not sure the system can be saved. The rot has gone too deep and too far. The political will for repairs has never been there, and too many people are captive to and dependent on the system. I am absolutely not calling for revolution or joining HeadsOnPikes (other than metaphorically…I care nothing for federal careers). Rather, I expect the whole thing, from Social Security through the Federal Reserve all the way to the UN, NATO, and the EU to come crashing down of its own unsupported weight. The elderly and the poor, those without community or family, will be hardest hit. The only thing to be done in that case is to rebuild on a solid foundation. Nevertheless, while the system remains, I want to fight the good fight to delay or mitigate the collapse.
About the only thing in nature that can compare to a bureaucrat addicted to tax money is a drug addict, who will notoriously do anything…anything…for another fix. Once again, our hostess can bear personal witness at how utter vicious and ugly people can become when their income is threatened. Lies and character assassination and attempted character assassination are to be expected. As a rule, the nastier, more acrimonious and less logical a fight is, the more likely it is that money is somewhere involved.
There are few things that raise the passions more than fights about money, as many a marriage counselor could probably testify. It’s only natural that government employees fight to protect their regular paycheck, benefit packages, and retirement accounts. It’s considered somewhat gauche to talk about it openly and rude to ask about it. Usually, in a dispute, the non-monetary arguments will be advanced first. And it isn’t all about money. Sometimes, there are genuinely more important things, and on occasion, people do act against their own financial interest. But those are exceptions, not the rule.
The next time you hear someone Screaming Bloody Freaking Murder to High Heaven about Dire Consequences of this or that, especially if that someone is in government, I recommend wax in the ears, an infusion of steel in the spine, and a close look at cold, heartless money, because that’s usually what it’s really about.