Lobbying expenditures are up in the second quarter of the Obama administration, reports the Center for Responsive Politics. Well-connected Democratic lobbyists like former House majority leader Richard Gephardt and Tony Podesta, the brother of Obama transition director John Podesta, did especially well. Given the administration's focus on nationalizing health care and energy, it's no surprise that health care and energy companies were the biggest spenders. Businesses don't have unified interests, of course; some health care companies and industry sectors lobby against a government-run insurance plan while they support a federal mandate that every American purchase health insurance. Other firms may just work to get their own members onto the gravy train.
As Craig Holman of the Nader-founded Public Citizen told Marketplace Radio the last time such a report was issued, “the amount spent on lobbying . . . is related entirely to how much the federal government intervenes in the private economy.”
Marketplace’s Ronni Radbill noted then, “In other words, the more active the government, the more the private sector will spend to have its say…. With the White House injecting billions of dollars into the economy, lobbyists say interest groups are paying a lot more attention to Washington than they have in a very long time.”
Of course, this is not a new story. I pointed out in the Wall Street Journal in 1983 that Hayek had told us what to expect back in 1944:
If more money can be made by investing in Washington than by drilling another oil well, money will be spent there.
Nobel laureate F.A. Hayek explained the process 40 years ago in his prophetic book The Road to Serfdom: "As the coercive power of the state will alone decide who is to have what, the only power worth having will be a share in the exercise of this directing power."
In a graphic on page A6 of the February 13 edition, not available online, the Washington Post reported that “A Washington Post analysis found that more than 90 organizations hired lobbyists to specifically influence provisions of the massive stimulus bill.” The graphic showed that the number of newly registered lobbying clients had peaked on the day after Obama’s inauguration and continued to grow as the bill worked its way through both houses of Congress. More on the frenzied efforts to get a piece of the taxpayers’ money in the spending bill here and here.
And the beat goes on: The congressional newspaper The Hill reports, "Lobbyists lining up for shot at climate bill."
And that of course is why Patrick Appel reports at the Andrew Sullivan blog that Washington is the hottest city for job-seekers these days.
If you want money flowing to the companies with good lobbyists and powerful congressmen, then all these spending and regulatory bills may accomplish something. But we should all recognize that we're taking money out of the competitive, individually directed part of society and turning it over to the politically controlled sector. Politicians rather than consumers will pick winners and losers.
Just as important, businesses will devote their time, money, and brainpower to influencing decisions made in Washington rather than to developing better products and delivering them to consumers. The tragedy is that the most important factor in America's economic future -- in raising everyone's standard of living -- is not land, or money, or computers; it's human talent. And an increasing part of the human talent at America's companies is being diverted from productive activity to protecting the company from political predation. With every spending program and every new regulation, the parasite economy sucks in another productive enterprise. Do we really want the best brains at companies from General Motors and General Electric (this quarter's biggest lobbyist) to Google and Goldman Sachs focused on working Washington rather than serving consumers?