February 25, 2004 -- Denouncing special interests is all the rage on the current election landscape. Each candidate accuses the others of wanting to give benefits to some unfairly favored group at the expense of others. The sheer hypocrisy of all candidates reflects an even deeper truth about the system that they all support.

Ralph Nader has entered the presidential race vowing to fight the special interest groups that pay money for special favors from Washington. Of course, Nader does not consider it a special favor to him and his Green friends when the federal government prohibits property owners from using their own land in ways they think are not friendly to the environment. Nor does he see himself as an agent of corruption when he urges the federal government to prohibit people from buying products of which he disapproves. But he denounces businesses that manufacture those products, and that hire lobbyists to keep those products legal, for subverting the will of the people.

Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean denounced John Kerry, his chief rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, as the recipient of more special interest money than any other candidate. But Dean no doubt does not treat as a special benefit the federal government’s milk program, which appears as if it were designed by Soviet planners and mafia dons. That program helps dairy farmers in Dean’s native Vermont get higher prices for their products, at the expense of consumers, by threatening to throw competitors who charge lower prices in jail.
Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) denounces those big corporations that contribute to President Bush and the Republicans. But Kerry doesn’t think he’s doing anything “special” when he blocks all efforts by Congress to rein in the “Big Dig,” a $15 billion pork barrel road project that is a bonanza for Kerry’s constituents as well as contractors and unions in his state—at the expense of taxpayers in the other 49 states.
Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) has called out Kerry on his special interest hypocrisy. Of course, a substantial part of Edward’s campaign funds comes from predatory plaintiffs’ attorneys, many of whom are ambulance-chasers who pervert our system of laws in order to shake down businesses—or any other “deep pockets”—with nuisance lawsuits that enrich them at the expense of producers and consumers.
And yes, as Democrats claim, many Republicans do use the government to protect or funnel special support to their business friends.
All of this wailing and gnashing of teeth over special interests evades the fundamental premise of a free society, the premise best articulated by Ayn Rand : “There is no conflict of interests of men who do not desire the unearned, who do not make sacrifices or accept them, who deal with one another as traders, giving value for value.” When governments stick to their proper functions of protecting the life, liberty, and property of citizens, no conflicts arise. All individuals who seek rational goals benefit by living under objective laws that preserve their rights.
Special interest groups that benefit at the expense of others are created by government when it uses force to limit the private use of property, private contracts between consenting individuals, or private behavior that does not violate the equal rights of others. In such a system, raw political power rather than production and trade become the coin of the realm. Politicians compete to see who can promise one group more of another group’s money or freedom while denouncing their victims as “special interests.”
As Rand observed, in such a system political manipulators set up “new conflicts, such as ethnic minorities against the majority, the young against the old, the old against the middle, women against men, even welfare-recipients against the self-supporting.” And she was right on the mark when she said that in such a system, “a legislator’s job consists in sacrificing some men to others. No matter what choice he makes, no choice of this kind can be morally justified.”
If politicians—especially Republicans who claim to stand for limited government—were sincere in their concern about interest group influence in Washington, they would point out that it is because government has the power to crush an industry with the stroke of a regulator’s pen or with a new tax and to enrich one group with loot taken from others, that interest group conflict reigns. They would declare it their aim to roll back political power, to prevent government from running the lives and managing the wealth and property of individuals. And they would declare that the only moral system appropriate for men is one in which individuals use reason to produce goods and services for exchange with one another rather than using force backed by government to steal.


Edward Hudgins

About The Author:

Edward Hudgins is research director at the Heartland Institute and former director of advocacy and senior scholar at The Atlas Society.

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