Christian Schneider

Author, Columnist

Do We Need More “Public” Interest Legislation?

Often times, you hear legislation derided as being a “special interest” bill.  Implied in that designation is the notion that the public is left out of writing new laws, with only high-priced lobbyists having access to legislators.  Recent news stories about “the public” make factcat special interests seem a lot more sympathetic.

According a recent Scripps Howard/Ohio University national poll, nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the U.S. Government ignored specific warnings about 9/11.  (A 2006 poll by the same researchers found that 36 percent of Americans believe federal government officials “either assisted in the 9/11 attacks or took no action” because they wanted “to go to war in the Middle East.”) Furthermore, 42% Americans think the government knew about the assassination of John F. Kennedy in advance, and 37% of Americans believe the government knows that UFOs are real.  They must have polled the entire Jetson family.

More concerning are the results of the poll dealing with economics.  According to the poll, eight out of 10 Americans suspect oil companies are conspiring to keep fuel prices high and 50 percent said a conspiracy is “very likely.” Only 14 percent felt it was unlikely.

So companies trying to charge as much as they can as long as people still buy their product is a “conspiracy?”  If so, then oil companies are a “conspiracy” in the same way that old people selling lawn elves on eBay are.  Maybe we should investigate them – how dare they try to get the best price for their product!

This poll was followed by news of a brawl in a Waukesha K-Mart , where people applying for a $4,000 line of credit thought they were getting “free money.”  Apparently not knowing what “credit” is, the store was flooded with applicants thinking they were getting free cash – causing a fight that led to arrests and hospitalization for a store employee.  (Do yourself a favor and watch the video clips attached to the story linked above – one credit applicant says she was caught in a “trampede.”)

However, before we criticize the people who though credit was free money, the whole K-Mart debacle isn’t all that different from the way Wisconsin state government has treated debt.  The Governor and Legislature have increasingly been using the state’s credit card to fund ongoing state operations – the equivalent of taking out a second mortgage to throw a pizza party.  So, in theory, K-Mart shoppers may be more fiscally conservative than state government.  They are shopping at K-Mart, after all.  The only difference is that when the state lines up for “free money,” it doesn’t result in a floor covered in hair and earrings.

Whether it’s voters or elected officials, there’s plenty of education about economics that has to occur. In the case of voters, these are the people that are asked to vote in referendums to determine how much debt school districts should incur to build a new school. Maybe school districts should just go to K-Mart: it is free money, after all.


Further evidence that even elected officials often don’t get it can be found in this article about the dispute between cable companies and the NFL Network.  The two entities have yet to reach agreement on carrying the network, which is leaving many Packer fans in the dark for the important Dallas game on Thursday night.  When asked for comment, Governor Doyle’s spokesman, Matt Canter, said “Both the cable companies and the NFL are making ridiculous profits, and this is nothing more than extortion from Packers fans.”

There is nothing Doyle’s spokespeople won’t blame on “ridiculous profits,” whether it’s oil companies, hospitals, drug companies, or cable companies.  Perhaps Canter missed this article from just last week that shows cable companies are hemorrhaging customers, in large part because of their impasse with sports-related stations.  If Matt Canter fell out of his bed, it’s likely he’d blame it on the “ridiculous profits” of mattress companies. 

Any time government gets to decide what an appropriate profit margin is, it spells big trouble for business and jobs.  Meanwhile, state government doesn’t seem the least bit bashful about cashing in on “ridiculous profits” when revenue increases between 7% and 10% – a common occurence in the 1990s.  That money is coming out of the same pockets as people who subscribe to cable television service – only paying the state is mandatory.

1 Comment

  1. Kmart and Citibank should brace themselves for the trampede of personal injury lawyers who will no doubt be applying for the other form of free money in time for the Holidays.

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