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10.2 Some Features of a Democratic Society

Learning Objective

  1. Understand how and why lobbying is used to influence the policy decisions of a government.

A government represents the interests of its citizens. As Abraham Lincoln said in the Gettysburg Address, a democratic government is meant to be by the people and for the people. Thus, in a representative democracyA political system where government officials are entrusted to take actions that are in the interests of their constituents. Periodic elections are the mechanism that makes it work., government officials are entrusted to take actions that are in the interests of their constituents. Periodic elections allow citizens to vote for individuals they believe will best fulfill their interests. If elected officials do not fulfill the interests of their constituents, then those constituents eventually have a chance to vote for someone else. Thus, if elected officials are perceived as good representatives of their constituents’ interests, they are likely to be reelected. If they follow their own individual agenda, and if that agenda does not match the general interests of their constituents, then they may lose a subsequent bid for reelection.

Citizens in democratic societies are traditionally granted the right to free speech. It is generally accepted that people should be allowed to voice their opinions about anything in front of others. In particular, people should be free to voice their opinions about government policies and actions without fear of reprisal. Criticisms of, as well as recommendations for, government policy actions must be allowed if a truly representative government is to operate effectively.

The Nature of Lobbying

We can define lobbyingThe activity wherein individual citizens voice their opinions to government officials about government policy actions. as the activity wherein individual citizens voice their opinions to the government officials about government policy actions. It is essentially an information transmission process. By writing letters and speaking with officials, individuals inform the government about their preferences for various policy options under consideration. We can distinguish two types of lobbying: casual lobbying and professional lobbying.

Casual lobbying occurs when a person uses his leisure time to petition or inform government officials of his point of view. Examples of casual lobbying are when people express their opinions at a town meeting or when they write letters to their Congress members. In these cases, there is no opportunity cost for the economy in terms of lost output, although there is a cost to the individual because of the loss of leisure time. Casual lobbying, then, poses few economic costs except to the individual engaging in the activity.

Professional lobbying occurs when an individual or company is hired by someone to advocate a point of view before the government. An example is a law firm hired by the steel industry to help win an antidumping petition. In this case, the law firm will present arguments to government officials to try to affect a policy outcome. The law firm’s fee will come from the extra revenue expected by the steel industry if it wins the petition. Since, in this case, the law firm is paid to provide lobbying services, there is an opportunity cost represented by the output that could have been produced had the lawyers engaged in an alternative productive activity. When lawyers spend time lobbying, they can’t spend time writing software programs, designing buildings, building refrigerators, and so on. (This poses the question, What would lawyers do if they weren’t lawyering?) The lawyers’ actions with this type of lobbying are essentially redistributive in nature, since the lawyers’ incomes will derive from the losses that will accrue to others in the event that the lobbying effort is successful. If the lobbying effort is not successful, the lawyers will still be paid, only this time the losses will accrue to the firm that hired the lawyers. For this reason, lobbying is often called rent seekingA term used to describe the purposeful activity of seeking ways to shift profit or “rents” toward oneself or a favored group. because the fees paid to the lobbyists come from a pool of funds (rents) that arise when the lobbying activity is successful. Another name given to professional lobbying in the economics literature is a directly unproductive profit-seeking (DUP) activity Any activity whose primary purpose is to shift benefits toward a particular group, often by influencing policy decisions. Although a DUP activity may indirectly benefit a producer of final consumer goods or services, it does not directly contribute to that production..

Lobbying is necessary for the democratic system to work. Somehow information about preferences and desires must be transmitted from citizens to the government officials who make policy decisions. Since everyone is free to petition the government, lobbying is the way in which government officials can learn about the desires of their constituents. Those who care most about an issue will be more likely to voice their opinions. The extent of the lobbying efforts may also inform the government about the intensity of the preferences as well.

Key Takeaways

  • In a representative democracy, citizens have the right to both elect their representatives and discuss policy options with their elected representatives.
  • Lobbying is the process of providing information to elected officials to influence the policies that are implemented.
  • A directly unproductive profit-seeking (DUP) activity is any action that by itself does not directly produce final goods and services consumed by a country’s consumers.

Exercise

  1. Jeopardy Questions. As in the popular television game show, you are given an answer to a question and you must respond with the question. For example, if the answer is “a tax on imports,” then the correct question is “What is a tariff?”

    1. The term for a democratic system in which government agents are entrusted to take actions in the best interests of the voting public.
    2. The term used to describe activities to petition the government for particular policies.
    3. This type of lobbying does not incur an opportunity cost of forgone production.
    4. This type of lobbying does incur an opportunity cost of forgone production.
    5. The term used to describe the extra revenues earned because of successful lobbying efforts.
    6. The term describing the purposeful effort to direct money away from others and toward oneself.
    7. Economic activities defined by the acronym DUP.