Are special interests now weakening? Here's a Jonathan Rauch review of a new book by Gunnar Trumbull about exactly that. Trumbull's book is meant to be an optimistic partial repudiation of an earlier work by Mancur Olson, which said that democracies were damaged by the influence of special interests which by their nature were focused and organized, and opposition which is by its nature not focused. As the reviewer puts it, if there's a National Cotton Council to represent the cotton industry (and there is; boy, is there ever) then why is there no anti-cotton council?
Part of Trumbull's answer has to do with technology allowing organization and communication to be much less of a barrier for the opposition. And I think most people outside the cotton industry would agree that if the lack of opposition is damaging the American economy, this is not a good thing. So here's your answer for smartasses who ask why there are atheist lobbying groups. After all, if you're not a football fan, on Superbowl Sunday you don't get together with other non-football fans and have an anti-Superbowl party, right? True, but then again I've never had a Chargers fan refuse to talk or do business with me because of my disinterest in the NFL. Questions of church-state separation are a little more important and all-pervasive than questions about cotton protectionism; consequently there are both pro- and anti-separation groups, although the anti-separation groups are much more organized and funded like a traditional lobby. If it seems strange that the answer to religious activity is political, think again: if someone wants to have their weird beliefs up on a mountain somewhere and not bother everyone else, that's fine. It's when they're trying to use the government to force my kids to believe the same things that there's a problem. Then there needs to be opposition.
Previously at my other blog (links below) I'd written about the problem of increasing specialization for commerce and individual decision-making; really that's just Manicur Olson's special interest sclerosis problem, as it directly affects the lives and commerce of individuals rather than specifically the political process.
Cross-posted at my politics and economics blog.
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