Home > Uncategorized > “You get what you pay for” – third in a series of things we used to say

“You get what you pay for” – third in a series of things we used to say

September 17, 2011

Cliches are not like the law of gravity, but they’re pretty darned reliable social/economic observations.  We say them with a knowing expression, as if they explain something… and often they do. How often do you hear this one?

“You get what you pay for”

Depending on your focus it can be stated differently:  ”you get what someone pays for,” or “follow the money” or the ever-popular “No Free Lunch”.  I can’t think of a better example than campaign financing.

Who’s paying for our political campaigns?

Somebody’s paying for something and somebody is getting something.

You and I can’t possibly compete in an economic arm-wrestling match with the Koch brothers, for example.  We make contributions and hope for representation; they pay for staff, jets, perks, front organizations… and get private-line access.

The party currently holding Congress will say or do anything they’re told by their corporate nose-ring pullers.  They’ll look at the science behind global warming and just… deny it. They’ll look at our highest-in-the-world-per-capita health care spending and our 40th-place infant mortality stats and say, with a straight face, “We have the best health care in the world!” They’ll call Social Security a Ponzi scheme  because let’s face it, their Wall Street masters are salivating over that market.  They’ll say they’re giving the Obama jobs plan “serious consideration” and then turn around a week later and propose another trillion dollars in tax cuts for the rich.

You can forget about the Tillman act or its various legal grandchildren.  Now that corporations have been declared people, they’ve gotten really serious about paying for elections. Is it any surprise they’re getting candidates who will actually introduce legislation written by their “think tanks”?

(The Democrats are a little better.  Some of them are even pretty good, but don’t expect them to do more than keep some of the worst evils at bay for the time being.)

How do we get there from here?

The situation makes schemes like “conscripting random people to be Senators for a year”, sound a hell of a lot better.  But as I said before, our guiding cliches aren’t laws of nature.  We CAN bend them a little bit.  For example, we can just damn well un-declare corporations as people and bring back campaign financing rules. Maybe even go to public financing of elections.

Sounds simple!  Except we can’t just damn well un-declare anything.  We are painted into a corner (despite having been warned). Our own elected officials stand in the way, backed by corporate money.

OK, we’ll “throw the bums out”, right?  Ditch all the corporate-owned, religion-addled Republicans and the slightly less corporate-owned and religion-addled Democrats and put in… I don’t know, Green candidates or something?  Fiscal responsibility, less war, more environment, universal health care, and so forth? Great!  Let’s do that.

Sorry, at the national level that is not realistic; we’re stuck with Republicans and Democrats.  Votes for third-party candidates just make lobbyists rub their hands together and practice their evil laugh. We’re in a serious pickle and we simply can’t get to the other side of the board in one or two moves.  What to do?

Letting Conservatives win national seats to “teach the Democrats a lesson” is just… stupid.  A good compromise would be to elect Green candidates at the local level; it will put pressure on Democrats to stop pandering to Conservatives.  Because in the age of corporate megabucks politics, we’re going to have to bend “get what you pay for” as far as it will go.

We’re in a long game, and we need to think in multiple steps. Like restoring campaign-finance laws, supporting public campaign financing, party loyalty (think very hard about where the wedge comes from), and give that First Amendment a workout every chance you get.

Step one should be to figure out what we are paying for, and what someone is paying for and how much.  But not all payment is money: if you’re getting outspent, you will have to out-think.  And that isn’t easy because, while the big corporations seem to prefer dumb candidates, their strategists and attorneys run toward wicked-smart.  That’s where the new battle is, and why anti-intellectualism is so dangerous.


  • I thought I was editing a draft of this post but accidentally published instead.  So a whole sequence of different versions were live for a while.
  • Clearly it would be possible to write this post about schools, or health care, or consumer goods or canned beans.
  • One good example: Half of Rick Perry’s donations come from a handful of zillionaires
  • Something I found while researching this post: Outflanking the Tea Party (and Barack Obama).  Author is thinking along similar lines apparently.
  • Next cliche is a really juicy one.  First spoken by a US President.
Categories: Uncategorized
  1. September 19, 2011 at 01:31 | #1

    Letting Conservatives win national seats to “teach the Democrats a lesson” is just… stupid

    Voting for the same people who are screwing us now is just … insane.

    Ask yourself this – why is it that the Israel lobby and the NRA are so effective, despite representing minority views? The answer is that both punish the people who don’t support them. They don’t vote for them. They fund their opponents. They don’t take crap.

    Progressives, on the other hand, represent anywhere from a quarter to a third of the population, but no one takes them seriously. The President calls us dope addicts and whiners. Congress won’t pay any attention, nor will they keep any promises they make to us. Yet we keep voting for them. The Democrats have done nothing but let the finance system do whatever it wants to us, while they keep threatening to take away Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid to pay for it. They keep telling people they’re insane to expect any new job programs or stimulus spending. The one stimulus they passed was pitifully inadequate, as countless people warned it would be. The only thing it seemed designed to do was give people the idea that stimulus won’t work.

    If you like being slapped around, and you like being screwed, keep voting for these people. Because they will keep doing it until you don’t.

    The people you are afraid of are going to get what they want, because you won’t demand what you want. That’s the reason this country is drifting to the right. You demand what you want by withholding support from politicians who won’t give it to you, and giving it to those tragically few who do.

    So pick – insane or stupid. Either that, or come up with a realistic option. I’ll go with stupid, because at least with the stupid option there’s a chance things will change. Keep putting the same people in office who are there now, and there is no hope at all.

  2. dof
    September 19, 2011 at 07:03 | #2

    A “realistic option”? I proposed one: elect Greens at the local level every chance we get and give no quarter to the Republicans. Holding the line while building a stronger base. Not guaranteed success but to me that’s the most “realistic” path from where we are to where we want to be.

    Ask yourself this – why is it that the Israel lobby and the NRA are so effective, despite representing minority views? The answer is that both punish the people who don’t support them. They don’t vote for them. They fund their opponents. They don’t take crap.

    Both lobbies enjoy certain historical points of leverage other than punishing people who don’t support them. The Israel lobby can make use of a widespread biblical apocalyptic belief in the US, and the (perhaps not inaccurate) perception that without external support they might be exterminated by their enemies, plus they are the closest thing we have to an ally in that part of the world. The NRA can play on centuries of frontier gun-culture and they have their very own amendment to the constitution. So it isn’t as if “punishing people who don’t vote for them” is their only leverage. (Though of course they do that too)

    Suppose it’s 2000 and Al Gore has just been elected by a narrow margin. Did we invade Iraq? Was FEMA handed over to incompetent political cronies after Bill Clinton built it up into a pretty solid organization? Were Clinton-era environmental and worker-safety regulations gutted? For that matter, did Al Gore blow off the memo titled; “Al Queda determined to strike inside the US”?

    Now play the game in reverse: it’s 2008 and John McCain has just been elected. He all but made “war with Iran” into a campaign promise, and somehow I think that’s a promise he’d have kept. Any progress on repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”? Would his Justice Department decide not to defend DOMA? What’s his reaction to environmental health and safety? Did we get the appointment of the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer? Is the Secretary of Energy a physicist or a former oil-company-executive?

    A former cop of my acquaintance says that when he’d be out on a call, it didn’t matter what the person said as long as they did what he instructed them to do. In other words, he looked at the actions rather than the rhetoric. Obama is far from perfect but he’s a hell of a lot better than the Republicans, and everything he’s done has been against the resistance of enormous back-room machinations aimed at preventing him from doing anything.

    So: you want to “punish” the Democrats for not being progressive enough? For being wishy-washy and letting bad stuff through? For rhetoric you didn’t like? You are absolutely right that things will change if the Republicans get another shot at full power: I believe there’s a chance we will slide into full-fledged fascism. I spoke to a fellow recently who wanted that to happen “so people will see and wise up”.

    “Burn it all down,” he said.

    You think I’m “afraid” and you’re right. I’m still trying to think of any historical example of a country disentangling itself from fascism without all-out war. So if the path back from that brink is imperfect I’m still willing to try it. I’m not going to set someone on fire to teach them a lesson about not dousing themselves with gasoline. Better to get away from sources of ignition, get those hydrocarbon-infused clothes off, and get him into a shower and then into therapy. If we’re lucky, he might get away with a really bad skin rash.

  3. September 27, 2011 at 20:46 | #3

    So it seems to me there is a presumption that electing a Repub = burning down the house, or the owner of the house. That is a large presumption to make. And its the same fear that dems have been using forever to keep us voting them in. If we don’t, “The boogeyman will take over and destroy us ALL!!!!”

    I’m not saying I disagree with you George, you make very valid points and honesty I’m not sure what I’m going to do yet. But to play into the fear seems just as silly as progressives voting republican.

  4. dof
    September 27, 2011 at 21:32 | #4

    Yeah, you’re right. Other than the nearly monolithic Republican record for corporate fealty, opposition to social spending, promotion of military action, denial of environmental reality, and support for social conservatism, they’re not too bad.

    I’m not making any presumption, big or otherwise; I’m going on their record and on what they’ve said on the record. That’s not “playing into” anything; it’s calling a spade a spade.

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