‘Special Interests’ Explained

Politics in a few sentences, not really, because it’s huge (bigger than biology or physics or somesuch!) but here’s one thing: Civilized nations have democracy because without it, you can’t be sure of getting a good ruler.* Sometimes it happens that you have non-democracy *and* a good ruler, as in Singapore, but most of the time we end up with bad rulers who don’t do anything good for the populace. So with democracy, we’re all going to vote for the person who seems the most sensible and that, on average, ensures some better rules than otherwise. But democracy has its own problems, and here is one:

In principle, each of us should vote on the candidates as a whole. Say you want to decide between Hillary Clinton and Rand Paul. Then you’d size up their policies on health care, immigration, war, marijuana, etc. and then decide what will be best for the country as a whole. But then some people have discovered a loophole in democracy, called “special interests.” For example, America gives public money to corn farmers. No one needs the corn, but there are a lot of people, in Iowa and other rural places, who grow rich from the public subsidies that are handed out to corn farmers.

98% of the voters in America are probably against giving tax money to corn, but these people vote on a range of broad issues. So when they’re thinking about Rand or Clinton, they look 10% at health care, 10% at foreign policy, 10% at immigration, and something like 0,001% at corn subsidies because compared to other stuff it’s a small issue. Their vote is spread out over a number of issues. But if you’re a corn farmer, and you’re used to making lots of money because you get free tax dollars every year, your vote is decided in this matter:

  • “Will the candidate continue to give other people’s tax dollars to corn growers for free?”: 100%
  • Other issues: 0%

So corn farmers have a special interest and all other voters have a general interest. If a candidate keeps corn subsidies on board, there’s practically no one who would switch their vote because of it (because the issue is “small”), but if a candidate does the right find and abolishes corn subsidies, then he can be sure of losing all the corn farmers’ votes. So you see, it’s actually a loophole: Even though 98% of the voters want corn subsidies abolished, people who have “special interests” in things like these actually win out, year after year, after year.