“The only way to get rid of corruption in high places is to get rid of the high places.” Jim DeMint
The subtitle of Peter Schweizer’s Extortion: How Politicians Extract Your Money, Buy Votes, and Line Their Own Pockets (Houghton Mifflin, 2013) significantly includes the word “politicians” and not “Democrats.” Schweizer sees governmental power benefiting politicians from both parties: Democratic sponsors of a Washington-centric bill solicit campaign donations from those who would benefit by it, while Republicans “denounce the bill as a terrible idea that is destructive to the economy, but the threat of its passage is a moneymaking opportunity for them too.”
Schweizer gives depressing example after example to lock down his case that solving problems is good but nonlucrative: “It is gridlock, confusion, and rehashing fights that create streams of income—like an annuity—for the Permanent Political Class.” He compares government officials to the Manhattan squeegee men who would threaten a broken windshield if a driver didn’t fork over cash, but “these extorters wear nice suits, speak eloquently, and know how to present themselves in front of a television camera.”
Extortion is a sobering read that will help politics-watchers expand their vocabulary by learning about the variety of moneymaking bills: milkers, juicers, and fetchers. The book is a good complement to Jim DeMint’s Falling in Love with America Again (Center Street, 2014), which argues that “the only way to get rid of corruption in high places is to get rid of the high places.” DeMint points out how big government, big business, big unions often work together to hurt little guys ranging from security guards in Michigan (required to have three years of specialized education) to fortune tellers in Maryland (required to go through a licensing process).
One DeMint story is of Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris, the largest tobacco company in America. It supported the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009, which placed tobacco products under heavy-handed regulatory control. Was it a breakthrough for the big company suddenly concerned with public health, or a realization that Altria would do better by crafting regulations that would work to its advantage and leave smaller tobacco markets operating in a minefield without a map?
A healthier story is of how Sunkist ran an orange cartel in California until Skip Pescosolido, a relatively small grower but a Harvard-educated economist, declared war on the marketing-order system that limited the supply of oranges offered for sale, thus boosting prices. The theory was that the system would protect smaller farmers, but Sunkist used it to maintain its market dominance, since small producers were unable to expand their businesses.
Pescosolido described the system as one that allows “a committee of my competitors to sit around in a smoke-filled room and tell me how many oranges I can sell each week.” The political and court battles lasted for 20 years, but by 1991 the marketing-order system was gone not only for oranges but for other fruits and vegetables as well. DeMint’s conclusion: “Today, not only are small farmers free to expand their businesses and create more jobs, but your grocery bill is a lot lower than it would otherwise be, thanks in large part to the courage and determination of Skip Pescosolido.”
Joseph Loconte’s God, Locke, and Liberty (Lexington, 2014) recaptures the political philosopher from those who consider him anti-Christian: Loconte shows that Locke saw the Bible as the basis for a Christian renewal that in turn could bring social peace. Dan DeWitt’s Jesus or Nothing(Crossway, 2014) is a good book for new graduates who imbibed atheism in college and don’t realize it will lead them to nihilism. —M.O.