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Lobbying, Subsidies, and U.S Multinational Corporations (Part 2)

June 30th, 2008


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Prior to any government assistance, a firm makes a certain level of profit; they can then receive more profits via subsidy from the government, but must count their expenditure in attaining those subsidies against them. EL is not only meant to contain formalized lobbying spending conducted through institutions established for that purpose, but any expenditure of resources on attempting to influence political outcomes (the primary means being appeals to officeholders’ individual interests). EL includes election campaign contributions to candidates who promise to reflect their contributors’ interests and any promises of special employment or other benefits after a policymaker’s term in office. It also consists of the payment of lawyers to assist policymakers in drafting the language of policies and experts to assist in implementation.

Next, we must consider the interests of the policymaker, and his obligation to the public:

Ug rEL f(Cp)a (2)

The government policymaker’s utility, Ug, is the difference between the benefits received from private interests and a penalty caused by institutional mechanisms for public accountability. The first component is the product of some proportion r times the firm’s lobbying expenditure EL, representing the amount of EL that government agents “capture” for their own gain. Lower values for r tend to indicate more reliable institutional structures separating private from public interests. If r had a value of one, lobbying expenditure would essentially be direct bribery in exchange for arbitrary decree. The more that a firm has to spend in figuring out how the law works, what kind of law would benefit them the most, and other institutional intricacies, the lower r is.

The second component constitutes the role of the public in holding policymakers accountable for their decisions. It is the product of some proportion f times the perceived cost (to the public) of a policy, raised to an exponent a. a can be taken to represent the level of public attentiveness and responsiveness to how their tax dollars are used, and it is assumed that a ≥ 1 (if it were otherwise, the public would penalize the government marginally less for each extra dollar it spends- an absurd outcome). f represents the institutional manifestation of the public’s attitude: the higher it is, the more sensitive policymaking must be to public opinion. We also constrain this parameter between 0 and 1, for practical purposes.

Thus far, we only defined public opinion as a function of the perceived cost of a subsidy, which is actually defined by the actual cost of the subsidy minus some error:

Cp Cs ui (3)

Moreover, the cost of a subsidy is the quotient of the subsidy’s value over some efficiency proportion F > 0:

s F*Cs                                                                                                                (4)

Thus, substituting (4) into (3) and then into (2), we have

Ug rEL f(S/F ui)a (5)

F represents how cost-effectively the government can perform the policy at hand. ui indicates the level of misinformation the public has about the cost of a subsidy.

Taking the first-order conditions of each equation (i. e. optimizing firm profits and government utility with respect to the choice variables, s and EL), we attain an equilibrium level of s:

s ((r*F/a*f)1/(a-1) ui)*F                                                                                      (6)

From this, general intuition can be drawn about how each parameter affects the equilibrium subsidy value- in more plain language, how institutional, economic, and political environments determine the incentive structure for policymakers’ behavior. In short, differentiating with respect to each parameter individually yields the following results: greater government efficiency increases subsidies (dF/ds > 0); structural corruption increases s (dr/ds > 0); misinformation increases s (dui/ds > 0); Public responsiveness decreases s (da/ds < 0); and strong public institutions decrease s (df/ds < 0).

The model operates on a short-run, ad hoc basis; the equilibrium value reflects optimization from a single firm’s perspective at a particular point in time. Appropriately, the parameters differ depending on the specific firm’s (or industry’s) case, the institutional nature of the policy in question, the public attitude toward the symbolic issues, etc. For the most part, this is concordant with the reality of the assumed profit-maximizing firms: they are willing to gain at anyone else’s expense. Overall, the model given above is not intended to deal with quantitative specifics, but to create an overarching cost-benefit analysis of one method of altering a firm’s profits: exploiting politics. It is sufficiently abstract to accommodate any form of government which allows for some degree of private property, whether it is a dictatorship or a modern liberal democracy; the parameters are what change, but not the logic.

With quantitative reasoning in mind, we can begin to examine the qualitative aspects of the lobby-subsidy process. The distinction between “symbolic” and “instrumental” policy, a concept outlined by Murray Edelman in The Symbolic Uses of Politics (1964), is critical to fully understanding how MNCs (or any special interests, for that matter) can successfully have their private interests supported by government policies, even when those policies are detrimental to the public as a whole. He discusses the reality of the gap between the symbols invoked when policy decisions are being made and the actual instrumental, material status of such policies (i. e. what kinds of resource transfers the policy entails). These symbols are aimed at triggering conditioned responses, and are meant to be a substitute for the actual things they represent. For example, “the elimination of poverty” is supposed to trigger a positive response in favor of a policy, but its implementation may in fact be a tax break for the wealthy.

In accordance with that idea, important lobbying strategy lies in promoting favorable ideas to support firm or industry-specific goals. The aim is to achieve ideological or empirical consensus in policymakers and in, more importantly, the public. While some expenditure for this objective is through private organizations, the end result when it is successful is a favorable alteration of the law. [3]

Besides the standard range of direct government benefits which multinational corporations seek for their domestic markets (direct subsidies, tax breaks, etc. MNCs often pursue policies that positively affect their standing as international companies (or negatively affect their competitors’). This could mean, for example, arguing for a tariff that may not be necessarily to inhibit a rival’s trade, but to make its production inputs more expensive if it depends heavily on outsourced components. MNCs can lobby for direct negotiations or even the use of force between its home country and a potential host country in order to increase its stock of investment abroad. These are but two examples of the many ways in which MNCs can attain indirect subsidies, whose legislative elements frequently obscure their ultimate beneficiaries who, in public discussion, are supplanted by symbolic language.

U. S. MNC Lobbying in the 90s to the Present

American institutions have a long history of lobbying, beginning in essence with the first amendment of the Constitution: “[Congress shall make no law abridging] the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

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