<< Chapter < Page Chapter >> Page >

Special interests may develop a close relationship with one political party, so their ability to influence legislation rises and falls as that party moves in or out of power. A special interest may even hurt a political party if it appears to a number of voters that the relationship is too cozy. In a close election, a small group that has been under-represented in the past may find that it can tip the election one way or another—so that group will suddenly receive considerable attention. Democratic institutions produce an ebb and flow of political parties and interests and thus offer both opportunities for special interests and ways of counterbalancing those interests over time.

Identifiable winners, anonymous losers

A number of economic policies produce gains whose beneficiaries are easily identifiable, but costs that are partly or entirely shared by a large number who remain anonymous. A democratic political system probably has a bias toward those who are identifiable.

For example, policies that impose price controls —like rent control—may look as if they benefit renters and impose costs only on landlords. However, when landlords then decide to reduce the number of rental units available in the area, a number of people who would have liked to rent an apartment end up living somewhere else because no units were available. These would-be renters have experienced a cost of rent control, but it is hard to identify who they are.

Similarly, policies that block imports will benefit the firms that would have competed with those imports—and workers at those firms—who are likely to be quite visible. Consumers who would have preferred to purchase the imported products, and who thus bear some costs of the protectionist policy, are much less visible.

Specific tax breaks and spending programs also have identifiable winners and impose costs on others who are hard to identify. Special interests are more likely to arise from a group that is easily identifiable, rather than from a group where some of those who suffer may not even recognize they are bearing costs.

Pork barrels and logrolling

Politicians have an incentive to ensure that government money is spent in their home state or district, where it will benefit their constituents in a direct and obvious way. Thus, when legislators are negotiating over whether to support a piece of legislation, they commonly ask each other to include pork-barrel spending    , legislation that benefits mainly a single political district. Pork-barrel spending is another case in which democracy is challenged by concentrated benefits and widely dispersed costs: the benefits of pork-barrel spending are obvious and direct to local voters, while the costs are spread over the entire country. Read the following Clear It Up feature for more information on pork-barrel spending.

How much impact can pork-barrel spending have?

U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, who was originally elected to the Senate in 1958 and served until 2010, is widely regarded as one of the masters of pork-barrel politics, directing a steady stream of federal funds to his home state. A journalist once compiled a list of structures in West Virginia at least partly funded by the government and named after Byrd: “the Robert C. Byrd Highway; the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam; the Robert C. Byrd Institute; the Robert C. Byrd Life Long Learning Center; the Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholarship Program; the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope; the Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing; the Robert C. Byrd Federal Courthouse; the Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences Center; the Robert C. Byrd Academic and Technology Center; the Robert C. Byrd United Technical Center; the Robert C. Byrd Federal Building; the Robert C. Byrd Drive; the Robert C. Byrd Hilltop Office Complex; the Robert C. Byrd Library; and the Robert C. Byrd Learning Resource Center; the Robert C. Byrd Rural Health Center.” This list does not include government-funded projects in West Virginia that were not named after Byrd. Of course, we would have to analyze each of these expenditures in detail to figure out whether they should be treated as pork-barrel spending or whether they provide widespread benefits that reach beyond West Virginia. At least some of them, or a portion of them, certainly would fall into that category. Because there are currently no term limits for Congressional representatives, those who have been in office longer generally have more power to enact pork-barrel projects.

The amount spent on individual pork-barrel projects is small, but many small projects can add up to a substantial total. A nonprofit watchdog organization, called Citizens against Government Waste, produces an annual report, the Pig Book that attempts to quantify the amount of pork-barrel spending, focusing on items that were requested by only one member of Congress, that were passed into law without any public hearings, or that serve only a local purpose. Whether any specific item qualifies as pork can be controversial, of course, but at least by this measure, pork-barrel spending totaled $2.7 billion in 2014.

Pork-barrel spending can be encouraged by logrolling    , an action in which all members of a group of legislators agree to vote for a package of otherwise unrelated laws that they individually favor. For example, if one member of the U.S. Congress suggests building a new bridge or hospital in his or her own congressional district, the other members might oppose it. However, if 51% of the legislators come together, they can pass a bill that includes a bridge or hospital for every one of their districts.

As a reflection of this interest of legislators in their own districts, the U.S. government has typically spread out its spending on military bases and weapons programs to congressional districts all across the country. In part, this is done to help create a situation that encourages members of Congress to vote in support of defense spending.

Key concepts and summary

Special interest politics arises when a relatively small group, called a special interest group, each of whose members has a large interest in a political outcome, devotes a lot of time and energy to lobbying for the group’s preferred choice. Meanwhile, the large majority, each of whose members has only a small interest in this issue, pays no attention.

Pork-barrel spending is defined as legislation whose benefits are concentrated on a single district while the costs are spread widely over the country. Logrolling refers to a situation in which two or more legislators agree to vote for each other’s legislation, which can then encourage pork-barrel spending in many districts.

Problems

Say that the government is considering a ban on smoking in restaurants in Tobaccoville. There are 1 million people living there, and each would benefit by $200 from this smoking ban. However, there are two large tobacco companies in Tobaccoville and the ban would cost them $5 million each. What are the total costs and benefits of this proposed policy? Do you think it will be passed?

Got questions? Get instant answers now!

References

Roper Center Public Opinion Archives. “A Brief History of Public Opinion on the Government’s Role in Providing Health Care.” Last modified September 23, 2013.

U.S. Department of Commerce: United States Census Bureau. “Voting and Registration: Historical Time Series Tables; Table A-10: Reported Registration Rates in Presidential Election Years, by Selected Characteristics: November 1968 to 2012.” http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/socdemo/voting/publications/historical/index.html

Questions & Answers

what is demand
Sunday Reply
demand means desire for a commodity backed by willingness & ability to pay for that commodity
Rajesh
what is supply
Akoheni
supply means suppliers supplying more commodities when price's high or less when price's low to satisfy human want
Prince
the coefficient of price elasticity of supply is the measure of percentage change in the quantity supplied of a good due to a given percentage change in its price.
Khushiba
Please what is Economics of Scales?
Prince
what is cardinal and ordinal utility?
Khushiba
Cardinal utility is the satisfaction derived by the consumers from the consumption of goods and services while ordinal is ranked in terms of preference.
Grace
👍
Khushiba
Please explain what is meant by Economic Integration?
Prince
Please I need help!!!!
Prince
economics scales I don't know but I know laws of returns to scale
Khushiba
hello
TIMAH
hello
Khushiba
can someone help explain to me what is fairly inelastic dd
TIMAH
Economics Economics - The study of how people use their limited resources to try to satisfy unlimited wants
Abdullah
Economic integration has been one of the main economic developments affecting international trade in the last years. Countries have wanted to engage in economic cooperation to use their respective resources more effectively and to provide large markets for member-countries of the resulting integrate
Abdullah
Inelastic Demand When consumers are relatively unresponsive to price changes. A PED coefficient of less than one means that a particular change in the price of a good will be met by a proportionally smaller change in the quantity demanded.
Abdullah
what is development planning?
Emmanuel Reply
What is economics?
Shubham Reply
economics is study of scarcity and how humans make decisions.
sade
reason for development planning in West Africa
Emmanuel
what is development planning?
Emmanuel
What is homo Economicus?
nongo Reply
when a person is part 50% rational and the other part of him is 50% focused on money as an incentive
Yahir
what makes the economy to be stable
BELDON Reply
what measures are necessary to the economy which is not doing fine
BELDON
must find out the problems originating from and take remedy for it.
Rigved
Economics as a social science Discuss
Sire
list and explain three implication of balance of payment disequilibrium
Jayson Reply
In economics pollution, what's spillover?
Chinedum Reply
what is net national income
Ibrahim Reply
relation between business economics and traditional economics
Netra Reply
more explanation on GDP
Isaac Reply
it is a country total out put of goods and services divided by the total population of the country.I think it can also be derived from the country labour force,,because it mostly depend on the labour force and the level of technology .
Tantoh
labour force and technological progress leads to greater production increases the GDP
Ahmed
what is elasticity of demand
Jessica
degree of responsiveness of demand to changes in price and other factors that influence demand.
OBIAJULUM
It is the degree of responsiveness of demand and supply to a little change in price of a goods and services
Ibrahim
What is economics?
Bubu Reply
by this time
Emmanuel
It is a social science that analyses production,distribution and consumption of goods and services
Emmanuel
A social science that study human behavior in relationship with decision making
Jessica
a social science that studies human behavior as a relationship between ends and scarce means which has alternative uses
Charllote
it is a science that study human begin as a relation to ends and scarce should which have alternative uses
Ibrahim
the science in which we study about the investement of our wealth.
Atteq
what is competitive demand
joe
a competitive demand is also known as substitute demand .the moment the price of the commodity increase consumers will purchase the other other commodity which it's price is low and the vice versa. an example is milo and bournvita
Yussif
what is different between equilibrium and demand?
Moses
equilibrium is a situation where market is stable there is no entry nor exit. demand is the willingness to pay Which is backed by law.
Yussif
list and explain three implication of balance of payment disequilibrium?
Jayson
What are the typical patterns of GDP for a high-income economy like the United States in the long run and the short run?
mwangala Reply
What are the limitation and significant of macroeconomic
Usman Reply
explain the significance of concerpt of opportunity cost in planning
Mwanaid Reply
what is meant by the price elasticity of demand?
Martine Reply
when price of a commodity increase it's demand contracts , and whe the price of a commodity decreases it's demand expands so the degree of change in demand in response to change in own price of the commodity is called PED . Ed = percentage change in quantity demanded / percentage change in price
shaswat
what is a economy planning?
Jacob Reply

Get the best Principles of economics course in your pocket!





Source:  OpenStax, Principles of economics. OpenStax CNX. Sep 19, 2014 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11613/1.11
Google Play and the Google Play logo are trademarks of Google Inc.

Notification Switch

Would you like to follow the 'Principles of economics' conversation and receive update notifications?

Ask