“Sock Puppets: How the Government lobbies itself and why”

Christopher Snowdon for the U.K.’s Institute for Economic Affairs, in an analysis [PDF] of the government’s penchant for funding private advocacy:

This paper argues that there is a deeper problem if government funds and/or creates pressure groups with the intention of creating a ‘sock puppet’ version of civil society which creates the illusion of grassroots support for new legislation. These state-funded activists engage in direct lobbying (of politicians) and indirect lobbying (of the public) using taxpayers’ money, thereby blurring the distinction between public and private action.

• State-funded charities and NGOs usually campaign for causes which do not enjoy widespread support amongst the general public (e.g. foreign aid, temperance, identity politics). They typically lobby for bigger government, higher taxes, greater regulation and the creation of new agencies to oversee and enforce new laws. In many cases, they call for increased funding for themselves and their associated departments. In public choice terms, they are ‘concentrated interests’ compelling the taxpayer to meet the costs that come from their policies being implemented, as well as the costs of the lobbying itself.

Snowdon’s analysis could be carried over to the equivalent institutional arrangements in the U.S. with relatively little change.

Meanwhile, hmm: Amtrak will give you a fare discount if you join a group that supports Amtrak subsidies [Jonathan Adler]