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Paging Through Congress

New York Times columnist John Tierney understands public-choice economics — which is to say, he understands the economics of how politicians capture and maintain power.  He understands also that power tends to corrupt.  Here’s an excerpt from today’s column:

The justification for the page program is that it gives teenagers an
insider’s glimpse of how Congress works. But why disillusion them at
such a tender age? If they stayed in school, they could maintain their
innocence by reading the old step-by-step textbook version of how a
bill becomes law. By going to Capitol Hill, they see how the process
has changed:

1. A bill is introduced to build highways.

2. A congressman receives a donation from a constituent who wants to open a go-kart track.

The congressman persuades his committee chairman to slip in a $350
million “earmark” for an “alternative sustainable transportation
research facility” in his district.

4. The chairman quietly adds similar earmarks for all members of the committee.

5. The bill is passed unanimously.

6. The president complains about the “wasteful spending” but signs it into law anyway.

7. The congressman attends a fund-raiser at the new go-kart track.

What lesson has the page learned? That Congress is the closest thing in
modern America to a medieval court: an enclave governed by arcane
ancient rules of seniority, a gathering of nobles who spend their days
accepting praise and dispensing favors to supplicants.

so secure in their jobs, and so used to being surrounded by groveling
minions, that they assume the privileges of feudal lords when dealing
with pages and other lieges. Which is why, on occasion, they try to
exercise the droit du seigneur.