Saturday, July 03, 2021

The Common Root Of Obvious American Dysfunction Is Corruption

pluralistic |   In a technologically complex world, there will always be official advice whose technical arguments we can't understand. Our only reassurance is the process by which that advice is arrived at.

We may not understand the arguments, but we can recognize an open, independent process refereed by neutral regulators who show their work and recuse themselves if they have a conflict of interest.

We don't always understand what goes on inside the box, but we can tell whether the box itself is sound. We can tell judges are financially interested in outcomes, whether they publish their deliberations, whether they revisit their conclusions in light of new evidence.

That's all we've got, and it depends on a balance of powers that arises from a pluralistic, diffused set of industrial interests.

When an industry says with one voice that West Virginians are so fat that we can poison them without injury, it carries a lot of weight.

(so to speak)

It's a stupid argument. It's a wicked argument. It's a lethal argument. It's the kind of argument that might get you laughed out of the room if it is filled with hundreds of squabbling chemical companies looking to dunk on one another.

That's the thing about conspiracies (and Dow was, in fact, engaged in a conspiracy to poison West Virginians to enrich its shareholders) – they require a lot of discipline, with all the conspirators remaining loyal to the conspiracy and no one breaking ranks.

The bigger a group is, the more it struggles to keep a united front. That's why there's so much billionaire class solidarity. Sure, it's hard to maintain unity among a clutch of grandiose maniacs, but it's much harder to maintain unity among billions of their victims.

Monopolization is corruption's handmaiden – not just because it lets Dow hire fancy lawyers and "experts" to dress up "fat people are immune to poison" as sound policy, but because the industry can sing that awfful song with one voice.

Dow spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to win a policy that will save it millions – and cost the people of WV hundreds of millions or even billions in health costs, lost productivity, and, of course, the intergenerational trauma of ruined and lost human lives.

The reason millions in gains can trump billions in losses is that that the millions are reaped by just a few firms, who can wield them with precision to secure the continued right to impose costs on the rest of us, while the losses are spread out across the whole state.

For Dow to corrupt West Virginia's legislature, it need only tithe a small percentage of its winnings to political causes and dark money orgs.

For West Virginians to fight corruption in the cash-money world of political influence campaigns, they have to overcome their collective action problem and outspend Dow – all while bearing the human and monetary costs of Dow's corruption.

America is a land of manifest, obvious dysfunctions, and close examination reveals their common root in corruption.

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