The People Behind The Interest Group

I of course disagree with Representative Dan Boren (D-Oklahoma) about the desirability of the United States continuing with an industrial policy paradigm centered around promoting the fossil fuel extraction industry. But his press release begging for continued subsidies for oil and gas producers does make the important point that “[f]or every CEO of a major company, there are literally thousands of blue collar jobs that are affected by his administration’s energy policy.”

This is something that I think a lot of intra-left discourse tends to miss about why policy reform is so difficult. Any time you want to disrupt a coalition of entrenched incumbent rent-seekers, be they in the oil industry or the health care industry or the financial services industry or what have you, you’re going up against a strong team. And it’s not strong simply because the CEOs have access (though they do) or because the firms can give money (though they can) it’s strong because big companies have employees. And those employees have spouses and kids and siblings and they pay taxes that support local government and shop at nearby stores. And this entire trail of dependents fears change, and deems itself entitled to whatever economic privileges the industry in question currently receives.

That doesn’t make change impossible, but it does make it hard, and it all but ensures that on any major issue you like there’ll be hometown legislators standing in your way.