More on the Problem of Power and Influence between Government and Industry

The Washington Post article of today (Nov 16, 2013) entitled “Capital Gains: spending on contracts and lobbying propels a wave of new wealth in D.C.” is worth reading (http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/capital-gains-spending-on-contracts-and-lobbying-propels-a-wave-of-new-wealth-in-d-c/2013/11/17/6bd938aa-3c25-11e3-a94f-b58017bfee6c_story.html)

As in the previous post in this blog, there is a problem with how the wealthy elite of our country are enabled to enjoy privileges which other qualified businesses without these connections (guanxi, as it is called in China) cannot access. A related problem is how certain “connected” individuals are able to personally benefit, thus enlarging the dangerous inequality gap which has dramatically risen in the US since around 1980.

We have no rules preventing government employees moving into positions in private industry or in lobbying firms, where they then work the connections they developed in their work inside government agencies, securing favorable legislation for their new employers.

The ramifications of this are numerous and mostly negative:

Many qualified vendors to government and many companies with legitimate interests in legislation under consideration do not have access to these privileged channels. Thus, they suffer a disadvantage in competing for equal consideration.

Second, this system feeds on itself. Undoubtedly, there are many federal employees who clearly have in mind a future long and lucrative career–and are simply in those key (and relatively modestly paying) federal jobs only as long as it takes to build up those contacts and knowledge of just how things are done–how new drugs are evaluated, just who is key to those decisions, what his/her personal perspectives, preferences, weaknesses are, what are their phone numbers, cell phone numbers, e mail addresses. Before leaving the agency, they can learn who likes what brand of whisky, wine, who loves which particular restaurant or sports event. They learn whose children go to which private school, and what that school needs in the way of support–etc., etc., etc.

This is how relationships work, how they ARE worked, and how business is done in Washington.

I am not here to contend that everyone in lobbying or everyone who leaves government to serve business which they previous oversaw, is dishonest. That’s clearly not true. There is a lesser issue of honesty and corruption which this system enables, but the main issue is one of unfair advantage, and resulting legislative decisions which are not based on facts and objective judgments, but based on privilege and personal favors.

As Americans, we need to ask ourselves why we want this “system” to continue, with the obvious tendency to prejudice the judgment of government decisions to the favor of the few. Is there any possible positive to it?

We certainly cannot deny that this system adds to the problem of growing inequality in our country.
Those privileged few described in the article are enjoying benefits which are being denied to the large majority of hard working Americans.

Who would be harmed if we had prohibitions on government officials going to work for businesses in industries they supervised in their government roles, or going to work for affiliated lobbyists?  It’s hard to make a good argument in favor of allowing this system to continue.

I welcome your comments

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