Mixed motives: the good and the bad
Public Choice Theory and Obama’s Ban on Lobbyists
Sam’s piece and the lobbying debate touch on a central question in democratic theory: Are democratic citizens, when they act politically, to be self- or other-interested? It is argued that democracy works only if everyone advocates and pushes for either (A) their personal interests or (B) the public good. If it’s (A), then the majority-rule principle works to filter everyone’s personal interests into policy that equates with the public good. That’s assuming there are provisions to protect minority rights. If it’s (B), then the public good is reached more straightforwardly. That’s assuming that people can discern the public good through independent and collective reasoning. The problem, goes the theory, is that in the real America, some people fight for their personal interests, some people fight for the public good, and the majority-rule principle gets muddled along the way.
As it relates to the lobbying debate, this theory argues that a self-interested lobbyist can be part of a machine for the public good and need not exhibit the taint of bias or cynicism. Sam’s reply, as I read it, is to discuss intentions v. results. In a system where people are expected to represent a mix of personal and public interests, those who focus entirely on personal interests may represent legitimate concerns and may engender results that accord with the public good. But they do not exhibit the good intentions and other-regarding personality that we want in our policymakers. And for that reason, the distinction between turning policymakers out of “non-profit” lobbyists, but not “for-profit” lobbyists makes sense.