Uniquely among legislatures in the developed world, our Congressional parties now post prices for key slots on committees. You want it — you buy it.
THE YEAR IS 1909. The U.S. income distribution is about as lopsided as it is today. J. P. Morgan is fine-tuning a tariff bill by telegraph from his yacht. Morgan and his fellow robber barons have for years reliably tied Congress up in knots whenever anyone proposes regulating trusts, railroad rates, financial speculation, or labor disputes.
A notoriously corrupt ring of U.S. senators, the so-called "Millionaires Club," is on hand to bury in committee any measures that the corporate titans frown upon.
Fast-forward to 2011. Being a millionaire in Congress is nothing special — just about half of all members are one. The legislative process works less operatically, but the result is pretty much the same: legislative gridlock punctuated by occasional blatant special-interest legislation.
Banks are rescued; the unemployed are left to their own devices. The housing market is left in free fall, with the bailed-out banks mostly still left to call the tune on foreclosures.
As national income stagnates, financiers submerge financial reforms and derivatives regulation under waves of campaign contributions. Meanwhile, a vast array of interested firms and investors dispatch armies of lobbyists to stymie Congressional action on climate change, block the government from bargaining down prices of drugs paid for by federal health programs, and keep tax increases forever off the national agenda.
The full article appears in the current issue of the Washington Spectator