Rebirth of Reason


Creating Political Pressure Groups
by Joseph Rowlands

When it comes to elections, we often have a choice between two undesirable parties.†Both may run on a platform that will create new, oppressive laws.†To judge the candidates, we may have to judge the laws.†How do we do that?†Are some laws worse than other laws?† And what factors do we need to take into account?

We can judge laws by how much damage theyíll do.†The intention is to determine which laws are the greater violation of our rights, and which will hurt us the most.†But thereís more to it that that.

Itís well documented that when governments pass laws, there are usually unintended consequences.†The laws themselves aim at a specific purpose, but a reaction to the laws often produces secondary effects.† For instance, when taxes on investments are increased, the amount of investment usually declines.

One particularly common result of legislation is that it helps to create a political pressure group that didnít exist before.† For instance, if the government creates a program like social security that gives money to the elderly, then the logical by-product of such legislation is that the elderly will organize into a new political interest group.† Future attempts to reduce or remove this transfer of wealth will run up against a group of voters with a strong stake in keeping the program going, or even expanding it.

This means when evaluating the damage bad legislation can cause, itís necessary to look beyond the first-order effects.†In other words, itís not just how big of a rights violation the law is that matters.† It also matters how strong the resistance to getting rid of it will be.† A malicious law that has little support can be quickly overturned.† A law that has strong support even from a minority of people can be almost impossible to get rid of.

Itís true that legislation often creates pressure groups, but there are actually two kinds of pressure groups that can be created. †The first comes about when a class of people are given some benefit, like government loot.† The social security example above is applicable.† In this case, the pressure group thatís created is interested in maintaining the law, no matter how destructive it is in general.

A second kind of pressure group is created when the law hurts a group.† In this case, the pressure group is motivated to remove the spurious laws that are negatively affecting them.† An easy example of this would be a law that requires everyone to attend church.† Atheists, non-Christians, and anyone who doesnít want to go to church are formed into a political pressure group.† They suddenly have a strong interest and desire to remove this law.

So laws that provide benefits to people are difficult to get rid of, while laws that only provide pain to people are relatively easier to remove.† That shouldnít be surprising.† What does it mean in practice?

Most economic legislation, aimed at production or transfer of wealth, usually has pressure groups for and against.† If you transfer money from the bulk of the populace to a small group, you usually have a strong pressure group supportive of the law, and a weak pressure group against the law.† Thatís usually because those receiving the loot are receiving it at a much higher rate than the people paying for it are losing.† The benefits are big per recipient, while the cost is relatively low to the victim.

Social legislation, on the other hand, usually doesnít benefit any class of people.† Laws against homosexuality may be supported by Christians, but they arenít better off because of them.† Whereas there is an entire group of people that is hurt by it, and will try to get rid of it.† Most social legislation acts this way, disrupting peopleís lives without anyone benefiting except the politicians who get votes.

To sum it up, economic legislation usually is long-lasting and very difficult to get rid of once enacted.† Social legislation, on the other hand, is more readily removed.† This seems to correlate with history, where economic controls continue to increase and are rarely removed, while in the realm of social legislation we have been on a general path to freedom.

So when you make your choice on which candidate will do the most damage, keep in mind the wider context provided by this principle.† A bad law thatís temporary is one thing.† A bad law thatís permanent is quite another.
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