“People whom fate and their sin-mistakes have placed in a certain position, however false that position may be, form a view of life in general which makes their position seem good and admissible. . . . This surprises us when the persons concerned are thieves bragging about their dexterity, prostitutes vaunting their depravity, or murders boasting of their cruelty. But it surprises us only because the circle, the atmosphere, in which these people live, is limited, and chiefly because we are outside it. Can we not observe the same phenomenon when the rich boast of their wealth-robbery, when commanders of armies pride themselves on their victories-murder, and when those in high places vaunt their power-violence? That we do not see the perversion in the views of life held by these people, is only because the circle formed by them is larger and we ourselves belong to it.” (Resurrection, Leo Tolstoy, trans. Louise Maude)

New Readers:

Please start reading with my first post "A Cup of Coffee". Originally posted on March 19, the archival date changed when I made corrections on May 13, which is the date under which you can find it now.

I'll learn to manage this all more smoothly someday, but at present I have at most only an hour online each day (that thanks to the San Francisco Public Library system, without which I would be lost).

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Money in Politics

I am not the first to note that our country has the finest congress that money can buy.

I have heard many people whom I respect and admire complain of “the corrupting influence of money” on our politics.  I used to make the same complaint myself.  The huge amounts of money spent by individual campaigns, by the parties, and by other groups and organizations, along with the largess afforded politicians by lobbyists, all seem to mean that our government responds primarily to the needs and desires of the rich.  

I have recently, however, come to doubt the premise that our government is being corrupted.

The idea of corruption implies that something innocent (or, if not innocent, at least something virtuous) existed at one time and that this good thing has been or is being spoiled.  In the case of the government of the United States, complaining about corruption suggests that our Federal institutions were established to ensure equality among all citizens in their relations with the state. The fact that the wealthy have a greater say in how the country is run than do ordinary folks is therefore called corruption.  But I see no evidence in our history or in the constitution itself to suggest that things were ever different or ever meant to be different. The Founding Fathers clearly believed that government was properly the business of wealthy men.

Indeed, what is government for if not to function as a mechanism for the protection of property?   I think that most Americans would agree that government should set and enforce the rules governing economic interactions but that it should not meddle with our familial and our social interactions.

Government establishes weights and measures and issues currency.  For example,  it is often said that “possession is 90% of the law,” which means that 90% of our laws are devoted to defining who possesses what.  Disagreement over ownership has led to violent conflict throughout history,  and we want these thingsto be strictly controlled.  

But Americans also believe that government should have little to say about most social interactions.  We are free to love whom we choose, hate whom we choose, and play cards with whomever we wish, and we can worship the god of our choice.

Since governments exist to set and enforce rules governing economic relations, and since in this country, those relations are mediated through the exchange of money, the U.S. government’s reason for being is to make and enforce the rules governing interactions that involve money.  After all, our constitution explicitly denies to government the right to regulate most other social interactions, such as speech, assembly, religious affiliations, etc. So what else would the government be for? 

Our government was instituted by people who had money, and never in our history have the people who have money instituted a government that would take it away from them.  The Founding Fathers clearly intended the government to be an exclusive club:  their “democracy” was means-tested, and only those who had a penis and a certain amount of land could vote.

I find it hard to believe that they did not intend money to influence politics.

Shannon Alley

I discovered this alley, which connects O'Farrell to Geary between Taylor and Jones, while walking in the Tenderloin early one morning during my dark days.  I later returned to take pictures and here, on Veteran's Day, I share them with you.