Every day, we hear complaints by supposedly informed people about how corporations are able to buy politicians.  Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpOklahoma City Thunder players kneel during anthem despite threat from GOP state lawmaker Microsoft moving forward with talks to buy TikTok after conversation with Trump Controversial Trump nominee placed in senior role after nomination hearing canceled MORE has even admitted to doing exactly this in several interviews in the past two months.  Buying favors from politicians is obviously and clearly detrimental to economic development as it unfairly benefits the wealthy, who can afford to buy the politicians, and disadvantages the rest of us who, quite simply, cannot.  People in this camp typically propose one of two solutions: either break up the big corporations to reduce the amount of power they have or give the federal government more power so that they can stand up to the corporations.  In either case, the message is clear: corporations are more powerful than the government and we need to do something about this.  



Personally, I find it hard to believe that the federal government, which has the power to topple regimes around the world, somehow lacks the power to say no to corporations.  And yet somehow corporations are able to boss around politicians and force them to do something against their will?  Give me a break.  While I’m certainly not suggesting that the federal government use its military strength against corporations, the idea that anyone can force the federal government to do something against its will is patently absurd.  So if the federal government currently has the power to just say no to corporations, why are they saying yes? 

Because saying yes pays big money.

Politicians are not stupid.  Oftentimes, they give up highly lucrative careers to run for office.  Just look at Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonState polling problematic — again 4 reasons why Trump can't be written off — yet 'Unmasking' Steele dossier source: Was confidentiality ever part of the deal? MORE and Donald Trump.   In 2014, Hillary and her husband report an income of a combined $28 million while Donald Trump reports to have made $362 million.  As president, they would make a mere $400 thousand.  This means that they will take a 98.6 percent and 99.99 percent pay cut respectively if they’re elected president.  Why on earth would anyone want to do this?

To answer this, we can look at the salary history of Hillary Clinton.  Hillary Clinton hasn’t held a non-government job since the mid 1980s after she left Rose Law Firm, where she was making $92,000 per year.  Today, she commands a speaking fee in excess of $200,000 per speech.  Adjusting for inflation, this means that Hillary earns about as much money every time she gives a talk as she did in an entire year working for a law firm.  Once we realize the tremendous return on investment that is being a politician, it suddenly becomes very apparent why anyone would be willing to take such a drastic, but temporary, pay cut – it pays.

The real problem in this situation does not lie in politicians lacking the power to just say no.  It lies in them having the power to say yes.  Government has become powerful enough to quite literally pick winners and losers in any industry it so chooses.  As a result, being in a position to pick the winners and losers has become an industry of its own.

A return to a more limited government that cannot pick winners and losers has never been more necessary.  What we as a society need is not to give politicians more power, but wrest power away from them such that they literally cannot say yes to corporations.  Ask yourself: how much do you think corporations would pay to buy a favor from a politician who can’t do them any favors?

Herbert is assistant professor of Economics, College of Business. Ferris State University.