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Young Elephant
Wednesday, September 10, 2003
“Special” Interests

By Steven Taylor @ 2:53 pm

For those not paying attention to things I have written before (and there are some, based on some of today’s comments), what I have said about “special interest” is that the very concept is problematic. It is problematic not because there are no interests, nor because there aren’t groups which try to influence public policy. Rather, the point is that we all have interests and the only difference between a “special” interest and a “vital” interest tends to be whose positions get helped-i.e., a “special” interest helps someone else and “vital” interest helps me.

In the context of Alabama politics, my criticism of the idea of “special interest” in the essay I posted last Sunday went like this:

However, if one does a little digging, one finds that the largest contributors to this organization is the Alabama Farmers Federation, through its country chapters, and their affiliate, ALFA Insurance. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with a group of individuals seeking to promote their best interests in government, it is rather difficult to consider these organizations little guysindeed, the Alabama Farmers Federation is one of the largest special interest groups in the state. According to the Secretary of States office, other key contributors to the opposition include Southtrust Bank and Gulf States Paper Corp. Again, these contributors, who gave tens of thousands of dollars, are just as much involved in Montgomery politics as any other group, making their commercials, which claim to eschew insider politics, hypocritical at best, and purposefully misleading at the worst.

So, if one is motivated to vote no by a misguided belief that the yes forces represent special interests and politicians, and the no forces represent only the little guy, think again. Find out who it is that is opposed and what interests they are protecting. Information is key for making a choice. Remember: ones own interest is vital; other peoples interests are special. The question in regards to the September vote is whether the interests one is voting for are indeed ones own (and the states), or whether one is being persuaded to protect one specific group of interests, i.e., keeping property taxes low for large farms. (Again: under the plan, the first 200 acres of a residential farmstead will be exempt from property taxes. This plan does not target small family farms).

The point being that anyone who is organized to influence politics has “interests” and that’s fine (indeed, it is good and an outgrowth of democracy-see Federalist #10).

The correct analysis is to talk about a constellation of myriad interests. The false analysis is to speak of a dichotomous relationship between “the little guy” and “special interests". Indeed, on any given issue there will be a whole host of interests on each side. It really is a key element of representative democracy.

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  1. Thanks for the link to the online federalist papers. Been meaning to look for them online.

    Comment by JohnC — Wednesday, September 10, 2003 @ 3:21 pm

  2. Comment by Deleter Spy — Monday, July 12, 2004 @ 3:07 am

  3. Comment by Anonymous — Tuesday, August 10, 2004 @ 3:17 pm

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