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A question about politics

It’s largely taken for granted that American politicians tend to cozy up with the rich. My question is why. On a lower level, it makes sense as a strategic move, because wealthy benefactors can help you move up the chain. But at higher levels of government, it doesn’t make sense to me. Politics is supposed to be the pursuit of power, right? (Maybe this is the Chicago influence talking, but bear with me.) Once you reach a certain level of power, however, it seems foolish to squander your resources making other people more powerful, which is what the “make the rich richer” policy effectively does. Would you not rather want to deprive people of power?

For instance, with the big banks: the Obama administration had at its disposal the option not simply of going against the wishes of the powerful “big bankster” interest group, but of effectively destroying it through nationalizing the huge troubled firms. Or with single-payer health care: why worry so much about pleasing the insurance companies when you have the option of depriving them of all power or influence by putting them out of business? This question seems especially pertinent in the case of the president, where you can basically say, “Okay, listen, I have control over a fucking army — what do you have? You have a ton of money, do you? Well, I get to hire and fire the guy who prints the money.”

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June 25, 2009 - Posted by | economics, politics


  1. I think your assumption that politics is the pursuit of power may well be the problem here. Maybe it makes more sense to see bourgeois politicians as the most extreme of political idealists, willing to make any sacrifice to achieve their ideal, which is cozying up with the rich. This would explain your two examples: Obama is willing to go against public opinion, which hates bankers and insurance companies, because he genuinely believes bankers should run the finance industry and private insurance is the best way to provide healthcare.

    Comment by voyou | June 25, 2009

  2. If only our politicians were more cynical!

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | June 25, 2009

  3. Just when you think you can turn the aristocrats against the bourgeoisie, they figure out that they have all the guns and money.

    Comment by Currence | June 25, 2009

  4. You’re also underestimating class solidarity among and aspirational sycophancy to the powerful.

    Comment by Wrongshore | June 25, 2009

  5. I do have some attraction to the theory that politicians are cynically pretending to be cynical, in order to blind us to their fundamental lack of cynicism.

    Although, even in terms of increasing politicians wanting to increase their power, I’m not sure attacking the rich actually would make sense. Politicians still need money to get re-elected, after all; even a second-term president relies on legislators who need to get re-elected. I suppose if they could completely destroy those who would use their money to oppose them, they would gain more power that way; but I think that’s a pretty tall order, particularly as an attack on one moneyed group would probably bring out the opposition of all the other ones.

    Comment by voyou | June 26, 2009

  6. There’s also an element of class solidarity here. You’re not going to get an all-out attack on the aristocracy from members of the aristocracy.

    Comment by stras jones | June 26, 2009

  7. Doesn’t John Locke argue that this is precisely what he wants to happen? If your statesmen are groomed to seek honor and glory (i.e. power), they’ll seek it at all times, including starting foreign, and indeed, also civil wars to create artificial opportunities to increase their honor. Glory-seeking statesmen will hardly stop at increasing financial industry regulation. If we’re Machiavellians (and Locke is a Machiavellian himself), being motivated by money is better than being motivated by glory.

    Comment by burritoboy | June 26, 2009

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