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