Ezra Klein saw the same Larry Lessig presentation I was at yesterday. His take is more skeptical than I would be about the pernicious influence of money in politics. If I disagree with Lessig about anything in this regard it’s that I think the focus on the precise modalities with which special interests are allowed to offer bribes to members of congress is too narrow. I certainly support things like “clean elections” laws, but I think we ought to also look at broader reforms.
Consider, for example, America’s staggering quantity of elected officials. If you live in Toronto, you vote for a member of the Toronto City Council, you vote for a member of the Ontario Parliament, and you vote for a member of the Canadian Parliament. That’s one large Anglophone city in North America.
What happens in New York City? Well, you’ve got a city council member, a borough president, a mayor, a public advocate, a comptroller, and a district attorney. You’ve also got a state assembly member, a state senator, an attorney-general, a state comptroller, and a governor. Then at the federal level, there’s a member of congress, two senators, and the president. That’s sixteen legislative and elected officials rather than Toronto’s three. New Yorkers don’t have three times as much time in their day to monitor the performance of elected officials. Instead, New Yorker elected officials simply aren’t monitored as closely. That creates more scope for corruption. What’s more since campaign money has diminishing marginal returns, the proliferation of elected makes money matter more than it otherwise would.
A big country like the United States is never going to have public officials who are as well-monitored as the ones in a place like Denmark. But we make the situation much, much worse by proliferating the quantity of elected officials to the point where most people have no idea what’s happening. How many people can name their state senator? How many people know what things their school board has authority over and what things their mayor decides? And this is all without considering the absolutely insane practice of electing judges.