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The Matchmakers of Predatory Politics



[Cross-posted in The Lighthouse, 3/1/11]

Politics makes strange bedfellows—including alliances of idealists and opportunists who lobby for the same regulations, but for vastly different reasons. The classic example is that of bootleggers and Baptists, both of whom supported local laws to stop the sale of alcohol on Sundays, but scholars have found similarities with other coalitions, including lobbies that promoted NAFTA, tobacco restrictions, and the Clean Air Act.

Typically, “unholy alliances” are formed by an outsider—a political entrepreneur who is alert to political opportunities and plays matchmaker to moralists and profiteers—argue Randy Simmons, Ryan Yonk, and Diana Thomas (all of Utah State University) in the Winter 2011 issue of The Independent Review.

Here’s one maxim the authors discuss that predatory political entrepreneurs embrace: Support noble-sounding goals that can’t possibly be achieved, then position yourself to collect a payoff. Here’s one example: In 1998, Shell Oil, Mobil Oil, and other groups that had opposed the Kyoto Protocol began to support it. Why? An amendment to the Clean Air Act would have compensated them for voluntarily reducing their carbon emissions early on. Mobil alone stood to gain $300 million in relief.

See “Bootleggers, Baptists, and Political Entrepreneurs,” by Randy Simmons, Ryan Yonk, and Diana Thomas (The Independent Review, Winter 2011)

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