Peter Schweizer Extortion: How Politicians Extract Your Money, Buy Votes, and Line Their Own Pockets (2013) — a Micro Review

© 2014 Peter Free


02 September 2014



Good insight, but disorganized proof in support


Peter Schweizer’s book, Extortion, turns the suspicion that America is run by corporations and private wealth on its head. He argues that the “Permanent Political Class” extorts money from business and public by proposing objectionable laws or cumbersome regulations, so as to encourage business and members of the public to donate money to politicians to squash them.


This legalized corruption benefits both political parties. Gridlock in Washington actually magnifies politicians’ ability to extort money from everyone else. By leaving law unsettled or permanently about to be settled, politicians can their money raising shenanigans going indefinitely.


In effect, the Permanent Political Class constitutes a parasite sucking the life out of American society.



I won’t quarrel with Schweizer’s thesis — but . . .


I objected to his disorganized and rambling delivery of the proof for his idea. This book is so tediously and amorphously long that I skimmed much of it.


His parasite/extortion hypothesis would have been better presented by supporting it with a handful of different and well-structured categories of proof, accompanied by rough estimates of the quantity of money extorted by each technique.


Instead, I found his chapter headings intellectually unhelpful. They might just as well have been entitled “Random Anecdotes of Badness” 1 through 8.



No meaningful attempt to quantify the proportion of the parasitic burden


Defining corruption of the type that Schweizer thinks he has uncovered is difficult. When does sound advocacy for a special interest, even a politician’s, become societally undesirable?


Presumably, politics is about:


(a) making sound national policy that benefits “mostly everyone” —


(b) greased by vote-getting concessions to narrower interests.


One supposes that the balance should be for way more of (a) than (b).


If true, it is the overall proportion of corruption — as compared to the totality of economic flow (as just one measure of social desirability) — that matters.


However, other than throwing around a few millions and billions of dollars in each illustrating anecdote, Mr. Schweizer appears to have made no attempt to hint at the magnitude of American political corruption. He lets anecdotes make his case in exactly the same unscientific way that America’s political right wing so often does.



The moral? — Viable thesis— injured by a lack of concisely delivered and organized thinking in its support


People who like randomly acquired stories might enjoy this book. Scientifically minded and busy people will probably not.


I “got” Schweizer’s thesis within the first few pages. It would have been better followed with an outline of bullets of evidence, themselves supported by concise chapters illuminating each. (To his credit, importantly, the author cites his sources of information.)


None of my criticism detracts from Peter Schweizer’s thesis about legalized corruption. It is there, and it is out of control. But, to my mind, corporatism — the ceding of the national interest to that of corporations — outweighs the dabbling that the Permanent Political Class does in the name of enriching itself.


I see Schweizer’s Permanent Political Class as being parasitic collateral damage that accompanied selling American democracy to the rich and influential. Not the reverse.