Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Funding a Political Cause

It is an election year, and I am looking at the issue of creating political change.

In my first post I argued that to make political change you need to bring votes or money to the table. At this stage, evidence and sound reasoning are largely irrelevant. They are relevant elsewhere. I will get to that in a future post.

This is not a cynical complaint about a world gone corrupt. This is a fact, as morally neutral as gravity.

If I were a legislator and you came to me asking for support, I am going to want to know what you have and are willing to put into play to defend that position - and what the opposition might be able to put into the field. It is stupid - utterly stupid – to come to me with an issue where you have nothing to put into the battle for its political defense when I know that there is a ton of resources willing to fight against it.

That is like demanding the evolutionary success of a species with a trait that is instantly fatal to those who have it.

So, if you want to make effective political change, you need to come with money or votes (or both). You need to come with the resources and the will to fight for your position, not only in my office, but on the political street.

Now, lets look at the issue of getting money.

Fact: 1% of the population has 42% of the wealth.

Furthermore, the other 99% of the people who have 58% of the wealth need to spend a substantial portion of that on food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and energy consumption.

Consequently, when it comes to wealth that those who have it can afford to contribute to a political campaign, the top 1% of the population has substantially more than half of the available wealth. The top 10% has over 90% of the available wealth.

This is a fact. Like it. Hate it. Shake your fist to the heavens in protest. It will not change this fact. You can ignore it - like you can ignore the car coming down the street as you step off of the curb. However, you ignore reality at your own peril. Reality does not change merely by wishing it were not true.

A political campaign is a product - a commodity. You are putting a product on the market and asking people to buy (into) it.

People will part with money. They will do so when you can give them something that is more valuable to them than the money that you are asking them to part with, and more valuable than anything else that they can do with that money.

We see this at work in a key difference between the Tea Party movement compared to "Occupy Wall Street".

The Tea Party has a product that they can sell to the top 10% - freedom from taxation and regulation. The Tea Party did not start off this way. It started as a protest against government bailouts for billionaires – rich people getting huge amount of government aid while the rest of us suffer. However, like every movement, it had factions. The factions of the Tea Party movement that succeeded were those factions that had a product they could sell to the top 10%, “No government bailouts for billionaires” couldn’t be sold to the top 10%. ”No tax increases or regulation” had a market. That message got funding and media support. That is where the Tea Party is now.

The "Occupy Wall Street" movement, on the other hand, does not have a product that the top 10% has an interest in buying - most of it anyway. Instead of being funded, the top 10% is more inclined to buy a different product – for example, one that is being sold by public relations firms whose objective is to discredit the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Now, let’s not get into hate-mongering stereotypes here. Remember, our focus is on the real world.

The top 10% is not some monolithic "them" in a state of perpetual war against "us". They are a diverse group, ranging the spectrum from utterly horrendous moral monsters (e.g., the executives of Phillip Morris and Exxon Mobile) to the admirable (e.g., Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Bono).

And, of course, many are admirable in some areas and contemptible in others.

Like normal human beings, they will tend to be persuaded by arguments with conclusions that they like. Thus, many will find Ayn Rand's arguments for selfishness attractive and blind themselves to its flaws. However, these are tendencies, not laws of nature.

Here is where evidence and sound reasoning can be used - at least on some of them. These people – the top 10% - can be persuaded by moral argument. They are prone – at least to some extent - to the effects of praise for their virtues and condemnation for their vices. Many want to be known as good people who did good things.

Rich people get cancer, Parkinson's disease, and suffer from mental illnesses. They want clean air and water. They do not want to be the victims of violent crime. They do not want to be killed by somebody flying an airplane into a sky scraper. Some adore their pets and children and hate to see them come to harm. Some are gay. All of these facts define a set of political products that can be sold to the top 10%. Organizations that create and package these products can collect cash that they can bring to the political table.

The Democratic and Republican parties know this rule and design their political products to sell to the top 10%. Some people lament this and demand change. However, the fact is that the political organization that does not do this simply is not viable. We do not have a party that refuses to create a political product it can sell to the top 10% for the same reason that nature does not give us mammals without a circulatory system. Those creatures do not live long.

Create 10 secular organizations. In 20 years, those with the best track record for change will be those with a political product they can and do sell to the top 10%. It will be those that developed such a product, created an organization that it could market as the organization best capable of delivering that product, sold that product, collected the money (in terms of donations and in-kind contributions), and put those resources to work. The other organizations will become small collections of impotent malcontents whining to each other over the Internet about how messed up the world is.

This, then, is the political question. What political products can the secular community offer that they can sell to the top 10%? Answer this question. Create the product. Make sure to create an organization that can deliver that product better than any competing organization. Sell it. That organization will have cash that it can bring to the political table. That organization can make the world a better place.


Eric Noren said...

I'm enjoying the series, so I'm not here to pick a fight. I'm curious, though, why you describe executives of Exxon Mobile as "moral monsters?"

Doug S. said...

Short answer: For funding a disinformation campaign intended to discredit global warming, thereby making sure that politicians don't do anything about it - which is good for Exxon, but not good for, say, people who are going to have their homes flooded by rising sea levels.

Eric Noren said...

Seems like "moral monster" is a little hyperbolic. You know, Doug, global warming is still up for debate. Seems over the top to call political opponents moral monsters.

Now, tobacco companies, I get.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

The Heathen Republican

Global warming is "still up for debate" only among those who have swallowed Exxon Mobile's campaign of deception.

However, this fact turns out to be irrelevant.

The arguments that Exxon Mobile have funded are clearly flawed and show a callous disregard for the truth of the matter. Since we are talking about a potential risk to whole cities for the sake of a few billion dollars, we are talking about a level of villainy fitting of a James Bond movie.

If I identified a button that MIGHT detonate a nuclear weapon in a city, is it permissible to push the button because the claim that it might blow up a city "is still up for debate"?

More important, regardless of whether the claims in the report happen to be accurate, is it morally permissible to lie about the report in order to get people to reject it (and press the button), rather than confront its claims directly and honestly?

What type of creature would do that?

Hume's Ghost said...

"Now, tobacco companies, I get."

Then I would recommend Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes or Doubt is Their Product by David Michaels, as both document that the fossil fuel industry has employed the same tactic (and some of the same scientists) that the tobacco industry did to manufacture psuedo-skepticism.

I reviewed Doubt is Their Product, here.