The other day I came across this article in the Wall Street Journal about the US federal administration’s attempt to cut costs by modifying the metallic composition of American coins. (In the US, like in Canada, the penny costs more to produce than it is worth.) It doesn’t take much imagination to discern elements of pure comedy between the lines of a serious and informative news in this story.
At least ten groups, from coin collectors to metal smelters to vending machine operators have something to say about the issue. As one would expect, nearly all the groups are opposed to the change (no pun intended), with each one trying to pull the blanket in its direction by saying that what is good for its constituency is good for the country as a whole. I’m sure that had they been asked, Canadian nickel producers (the ore, not the coin) would have had a thing or two to say about this as well.
This got me thinking about the huge challenges Canada, the US and other countries too numerous to count are facing in the area of public finance. Government deficits need to be reined in all over the world over the next few years, but each measure being considered by each government will generate some form of lobbying.
Think of the multitude of national, sub-national and local governments there are out there, each with dozens, if not hundreds of cost-cutting measures getting lined up in back offices. Then imagine that at least ten lobbies will have something to say about each measure once it is made public, even if it is a plain, common-sense one. Doesn’t it make your head spin? Doesn’t it make the job of governing and managing the public purse look like ridiculously thankless burden?
A few “deep” questions about this:
- Should democracy reach all over our public administration system, or should some areas be “exempted” to make governments easier –and cheaper– to run?
- Is lobbying a necessary evil to keep our elected officials accountable to voters?
- What would the world look like if we only allowed purely altruistic lobbying, meaning that people likely to benefit from a piece of policy could not legally pressure government about it?
- Where can I buy stocks in the companies that make those glossy plastic covers used to package the “information material” handed out by lobbyists?
Posted By: Jacques Marcil