The prevailing and most popular attitudes to lobbying in Lithuania are twofold. One of them views lobbying as a completely normal and expanding involvement of interest groups in the country’s political affairs. A phenomenon that needs only to be justified and properly presented so as to alter unfavourable attitudes.
The other approach regards lobbying as a pernicious effect of interest groups on the political process which is invariably linked to corruption. The aim here is to control and suppress lobbying by enforcing any conceivable regulations and dictates.
An alternative approach
There is an alternative, and perhaps the least known, attitude to lobbying. It interprets lobbying from the perspective of its origins and root-causes – the authority assumed by the state.
In the nineteenth century the state took on an ever-increasing number of functions untypical of it. That which used to be the individual’s, family’s or community’s concerns became the responsibility of the state.
Increasingly, the law came to be used to infringe upon man’s natural rights. In other words, the law became a mishmash of multifarious provisions and exemptions. It shrank back from representing a set of equal and simple rules of just conduct applicable to all and everybody. Rules that would protect private property and create an even field for all people to enter into contracts and exchange the products of their work. With this coercion of the law and the expansion of state powers came a corresponding increase in interest groups and their active involvement in public affairs. The rise of government provided an open invitation to lobbying. The root-causes of lobbying lie in the ever-increasing government authority to distribute favours and privileges, to accord different treatments to individual segments of society and to handle their problems with other people’s money.
The ambiguity of the higher law of the Constitution
In exploring the emergence of interest groups in Lithuania, one should in the first place take a closer look at the Constitution. The Lithuanian Constitution establishes two contradictory notions-free competition and a principle allowing the state to support economic activities that bring “public benefit” as well as to participate in the economy in other ways. It is clear for anyone familiar with the principles of free competition that competition is about private agents competing in a market. Any commodities and services offered by them are beneficial for society, and beneficial as much as people are ready to pay for them.
By giving someone outside the market boundaries the right to decide what is beneficial for society and by allowing such activities to be supported by the state, we violate the very principles of free competition and invite government interference in economic affairs. The direction and nature of interventions may be prompted by complaints or requests or anything you like. The state’s readiness to intervene engenders demand for such interventions. In other words, if powers inappropriate for the state were not legitimised, or, the other way round, if they were outlawed, there would be no case for lobbying.
Benefiting the few at the expense of the many
Lobbying in Lithuania is rapidly proliferating. This translates into an upsurge in corruption. Taxpayers’ money is used to finance needs that are not supposed to be ascribed to the state. Today compiling the state budget means satisfying the needs of individual interest groups at the expense of others. If this practice persists, the budget will soon come to reflect a whole host of specific interests. Undoubtedly, the financial capacities and other attributes of interest groups determine whether their interests are looked after, whether private interests turn into “public interests” and how glamorously they are proffered.
In this respect, corporate welfare ranks first in whatever form it comes-be it assistance to small businesses or exports or other subjects. State support is typically viewed as completely natural and common. Under such circumstances, resistance to public aid recedes, inciting greater demand for satisfying specific needs at the expense of others. This demand shows not only through traditional, both evident and covert, lobbyists, but also through parties. This is to the effect that interest groups are represented actively and on a large scale.
Regrettably, this wide circle of ideas and disputes fails to represent the biggest segment of society … ordinary citizens. For them, the path to governmental favours is long and insurmountable. They serve as a cloak for political games, while their needs are disregarded and ignored. The populace seems to be left overboard. This, however, is only an illusion. It is ordinary citizens who pay for all privileges afforded to others. It is them who suffer from irrationality and disorder.
On the other hand, it is a common fallacy to think that if capitalists enjoy favours and concessions and receive subsidies from the budget, why doesn’t the populace wring something from the state? Say, income and leisure guarantees, generous social benefits, unemployment allowances, etc. Trade unions would be only too happy to swell the ranks of lobbyists.
The effect of reduced competitiveness
The generosity and eclecticism of law, under which entitlements are adopted without estimating their costs or potential effects, reduces Lithuanians’ competitiveness. It is increasingly difficult for individuals and firms to compete on the market, as the burden of redistribution and guarantees is eroding their efficiency. This compelling economic argument may encourage people to switch into another direction and to establish rules of just conduct and a fair order. It may stimulate people to reject chicanery when special interests of the few are resolved at the expense of the many.
In Lithuania many speculate that it is too early to talk about legitimising, or institutionalising, lobbying? Yes, it is too early. By legitimising lobbying, we would authorise all economic and social ills. And these would only accelerate, as no one would attempt to oppose the expansion of state authority.
Today the main task for those who have come out in favour of limited government and against corruption (these include, among others, the ruling Conservative party) is the task of defining the authority and goals of the state. The state may assume only functions which benefit equally all citizens. Of all the multitude of governmental powers, only national defence qualifies indisputably as one that brings equal benefits to all citizens. Law and order may also be considered, albeit with certain stipulations.
Further in the inventory of governmental powers come such functions as education, health care, etc. Their services are not used by all citizens to the same degree. In such areas redistribution should be reduced. The supply of services should be transferred to the private sector and eventually privatised. If public education is still required by a fraction of the population, some of it may be preserved. This, however, should not impede other reforms.
There is still another category of authority, authority which should be outlawed without further delay. It involves government’s active participation in the economy as an owner and regulator. It is this power that most incites lobbying and is downright destructive.
An activist, interventionist government is precarious in economic terms. Resources are channelled to dubious uses, and the ultimate wealth and prosperity contract. While people are running after government largesse, they are not creating anything. They are only seeking redistribution of the wealth created. The more entrenched the rent-seeking and political-profiteering, the lesser the overall wealth.
Equally important is the moral aspect. People are being inured to the idea that living at the expense of one’s fellow citizens is moral, while the creator who wants to keep what rightfully belongs to him is denounced as immoral. This is a dangerous manipulation of values. It legitimates an attitude toward the government as a tool for consuming without producing, for receiving without giving something in free exchange.
Lobbying in and of itself is neither wrong nor right. It is merely a way to benefit from the governmental power to take from some persons what belongs to them and give it to other persons. Ills stem from this very power. Serious talk about lobbying is talk about governmental authority. As long as those who wish to cut the government are few in number, lobbying will continue to proliferate and mushroom, reflecting the rise of the state.