lobbying congress free market food policy

Lobbyists Get $1.3 Million for Every Hour Congress Met
subsidies commons

There's No Such Thing as a Free Market -- Just a Matter of Who Pays for It

We trim, blend, and append three 2010 articles, two from OpenSecrets.org on lobbyists, Feb 16, and lawmakers, Feb 17, both by Michael Beckel, and one from AlterNet, Feb 19. Terrence McNally, host of Free Forum on KPFK 90.7FM, Los Angeles and WBA I99.5FM, New York, interviews Raj Patel who has worked for the World Bank and WTO and been tear-gassed on four continents protesting against them. He is a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley’s Center for African Studies, a researcher at the School of Development Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and a fellow at the Institute for Food and Development Policy (Food First).

by Michael Beckel and by Terrence McNally

Federal lobbying soared to record levels last year, as lawmakers clocked long hours. This translates to about $1.3 million spent on lobbying for every hour that Congress was in session in 2009. The US Senate was open for business on 191 days, while the US House convened on 159 days. Their clients spent $3.47 billion on lobbying Congress, the White House and other federal agencies.

Some clients -- such as the big-spending US Chamber of Commerce -- also include dollars spent on grassroots lobbying efforts, and not just sums spent at the federal level. And lobbying expenditures are not only made when Congress is officially in session.

Still, health-related lobbyists and lobbyists for business interests like the Chamber, for instance, earned more than $200,000 per hour that Congress was in session. Lobbyists for unions, meanwhile, took in $16,000 per hour that Congress was in session.

House members raised $294 million during 2009, spent $169 million, and ended the year with about $300 million in cash on hand. The mean amount these lawmakers raised during the fourth quarter was about $179,000 -- and about $680,000 for the entire year. The median amount was about $133,000 during the fourth quarter, and about $526,500 for the entire year.

In the Senate, 96 incumbent senators raised $152 million during 2009, spent $79 million, and ended the year with $235 million in the bank. The mean amount a sitting senator during the fourth quarter was about $381,000, with an average of about $1.6 million raised for the entire year. The median amount raised was about $166,000 during the fourth quarter, and about $568,000 for the entire year.

Senators are not required to file their campaign finance reports electronically, unlike their counterparts in the House, which slows the disclosure of these records. (S. 482 is the legislation that would require electronic filing.)

TM: Could you say a bit about your book, Stuffed and Starved?

RP: There are a billion people who are overweight and a billion people who are starving. In 2008 over 49 million went hungry in the United States, and the US was the most obese population on earth. The global food crisis wasn’t because of a shortage of food. There were strange events that affected a few grain baskets here and there, but the driving force was speculation. Capital flowed from oil into food, and the price of rice went up 30% in a single day.

There is no free market. Haitian rice farmers who earn two dollars a day compete against US rice farmers who get a billion dollars a year in subsidy.

TM: Could you say a bit more about “externalities” and the hamburger?

RP: Rainforest was destroyed so that cattle could be raised on that land; how much did it cost? We lose biodiversity, the nutrient cycles, oxygen. Our $4 hamburger would cost $200. That’s just the environmental costs and doesn’t include underpaid labor.

The hamburger is part of a diet that is causing us to be overweight and sick. One in three kids born in this country after 2004 will develop diabetes, and one in five of our health care dollars -- over $180 billion -- is already being spent treating people with diabetes.

TM: Economic infrastructure now was made possible by the enclosure of the commons.

RP: The tragedy of the commons says that when all of us have access to a resource that no one owns, we will be selfish and use that resource up. If you look at history, however, in the United Kingdom, in Italy, around the world, people are pretty good at managing resources.

Forest communities that had enough forest to be able to use it sustainably, and that also had autonomy -- with neither the private sector nor the government involved -- did better. Not only did they have higher levels of welfare and development indicators, but they also sequestered more carbon. Despite being selfish, they were also good at living with the economic consequences of their actions and learning from them.

Bringing up kids isn’t paid. Women’s unpaid work (in 1995) would cost $17 trillion if we were to pay market value -- half the total world output. Yet women own less than 10% of the world’s resources in developing countries and less than 10% of the land.

TM: Do theoreticians -- Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand -- actually make a major difference?

RP: In the US, particularly in the Cold War, marketers were able to insinuate their ideology into the war on communism.

Markets aren’t bad by themselves. In markets people meet others they don’t know and develop bonds of trust and generosity. It’s just that capitalist markets favor a handful of people and are bad for the rest of us and the environment.

TM: Let’s get to your reasons for hope.

RP: Dr. King didn’t just say we need more regulation, he was actually engaged in the politics of practical change.

Electoral politics has nothing to do with democracy. In Athens, the birthplace of democracy, there were never any elections. Governments were elected at random through a lottery.

TM: Today peasants are organizing through a set of conversations bubbling up from the bottom.

RP: They’re not anti-market, they just want social control of markets.

Also see:

Lobbying is a Lucrative Investment, Researchers Find

The New Rentier Class

We're not talking about departed senators

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