Wednesday, July 18, 2012


           Whether interest groups are ideal or not, there is no doubt they have a profound influence on policy making and the government. There are theories about whether they all get an equal share from the government or if the rich and corporate interest groups have more of an advantage over policy making. Past politicians have stated that lobbying gets in their way of initiating successful decisions. The results of lobbying can either work in favor of the public (not excluding nature and animals) or for narrow interests that only benefit a small number of people.
            There are single-issue groups whose goal is to influence policy making in only a narrow issue. This consists of environmental groups and pro-life groups. For example, an environmental group like the National Wildlife Federation is probably against oil drilling in Alaska. They have succeeded in some ways because there have been no nuclear power plants since 1977. Public interest lobbies are another example of interest groups which strive to influence policy decisions that will benefit the public. Because of the activism of consumer groups, the Consumer Product Safety was created to regulate consumer products; this benefits everyone in the United States. There are other types of interest groups that seek to influence politicians to serve their economic interests. A company might disapprove of government regulations because it costs more money to ensure complete safety for its workers, so companies can lobby against a regulation policy. On the other side of the spectrum, labor unions might not be opposed to safety regulations, and they want higher wages. Perhaps the best-equipped of the bunch are rich corporations. Despite being rich, they want reduced taxes, greater profits, and are against policy making that can reduce their profits. Some of these rich interest groups spend millions a year lobbying. In contrast, there are interest groups that fight for equality. Equality interests range from gender equality to race equality. The National Organization for Women (NOW) and NAACP fight gender and race discrimination.
            There are quite a few maneuvers that can greatly influence policy making. Some think that these tactics are not devoid of corruption or unfair advantage. Political Action Committees (PACs) fund campaigns, which is a process of electioneering. Electioneering consists of members of PACs or other groups that aid candidates by funding money to them in an effort to serve their interests. Some candidates (especially losing candidates) might even feel obligated to serve the interests of groups that send money their way.
            Litigation is a strategy in which an interest group makes a case out of their interest and takes it to court. For instance, individuals can sue companies that dispose of toxic waste in their neighborhood because their health is at risk. A class action lawsuit can be done when a large group of people share the assertion that they were violated, oppressed, or afflicted by the defendant they wish to sue. All these concerns range from environmental health hazards to race discrimination; furthermore, the nature of these cases is usually to benefit the public or large group of people in some way. Going public is another attempt to grab the attention of the policymakers. To amplify their voice, they call for the public to resist or fight for a certain policy. If a large number of Americans or majority of the U.S. fight for a cause, politicians can be forced to cancel a policy because of immense pressure. Widening the amount of people who propose or are against a policy decision has proven to be a helpful asset.
            Some people feel that lobbying in general should be eliminated or scrutinized. The influential power lobbying has can induce a disastrous outcome of a policy decision or stimulate the government to formulate improvements in legislation. It can be hard for politicians to resist the temptation to receive funds from selfish interest groups, and sometimes there is no way to know whether or not a candidate runs for office solely for their own personal gain. However, the fact remains that most of the best legislative decisions throughout history—some of the most notable occurred during the Civil Rights era—were consequences of various interest groups.

Book Analysis

            The author of the book Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich, embarks on a project to not only examine the lives (particularly, their earnings) of the working class, but to experience it first-hand. She is a highly educated writer with a Ph.D. in biology and other impressive credentials. The point of this project was to find out whether minimum wage – perceived as “living wage” – adds to a livable income level.
            Ehrenreich grew up in the suburbs and only worked a minimum wage job at age 18, so this experience was mostly new to her. Barbara Ehrenreich gets work as a waitress, nursing aid, cleaning lady, retail, etc. When applying for these jobs, she never admits to her education background because she didn’t want to appear overqualified. She attempted to fully embody the lives of the working class by planning not to use her earnings from her “real life” because she considered this cheating. She only used her own money from her past life for paying a deposit on rent to start off (which turned out to be a huge advantage over long-term low wage workers). She moved into a new home in which she figured was efficient enough for her future earnings working minimum wage.  There were many mishaps along the way, and Barbara consequently found that working in these jobs were overwhelming. Moreover, she could not rely on one job’s paychecks to be sufficient enough for the bills (especially rent) so she had to work two jobs. Because these jobs (especially cleaning) demanded long periods of challenging physical work, she had to endure not only extreme physical pain, but also mental anguish. The author states that corporate entities have no regard for their workers. Some of her coworkers were homeless, and nearly all of them could not afford health insurance. The manager of one company (ironically once a minimum wage worker himself) would encourage the workers to get through the rough hours of working by sustaining the pain and injuries that came with the job. Barbara argues that the working class has to “leave their civil liberties at the door” when about to work for a corporation. As a worker, the companies scrutinize you by limiting your privacy; furthermore, the impacts of these actions eventually “keep you down” because self-respect is lost. She said the companies made her feel a way in which she hadn’t felt since junior high. Additionally, you’re hassled to work even harder when at your breaking point.
            This book challenges the misconceptions of the working class. Laziness is deemed the culprit of their unfortunate circumstances. There’s this notion that simply obtaining a job would get these folks out of their financial crisis and lamentable living conditions. The reality is that it’s fairly hard to get a job, and sometimes you just have to take what’s available. People ask, “Why don’t these people find a better job?” and Barbara’s answer to that is that “the poorer humans are, the more constrained their mobility is.” This is true, and there are a number of deterrents that people don’t take into account, like the distance between work and home and the availability of transportation. Sometimes a person can’t find a job within a convenient distance of their home, so walking is hardly the answer. Barbara’s observation that the working class is constantly looked down upon is a fair conclusion that she derived not only from her experiences, but by wealthy acquaintances. Unlike poor people, the wealthy usually don’t know how it feels to be so inflicted by desperation that they have to succumb to cleaning houses and toilets for a company. The book further indicates that the working class is heavily oppressed. As Barbara points out many times throughout the book, the working class are never praised for the hard work that they do and are often ignored. An important question is raised: Why isn’t the working class given more credit for what they do when the work that their job demands is far more strenuous than the jobs of the elite? They usually get the brunt of the setbacks that companies come across. It’s probably fair to assume that these same people that insult the working class wouldn’t turn down government help if they were plagued with the reality of your job not providing enough money for food and bills.
            The author did more than research for this project—she experienced it first-hand. She never claims to finally found out how it feels to be a long-term low wage worker; her only intention was to see how much it took to get by as a low wage worker. It’s important to acknowledge that her situation was a best-case scenario, and her situation verified that “living wage” is really not a liveable wage if you don’t want to be homeless.  The execution of the book forces you to feel the extent of the desperation that low-wage workers possess. Barbara Ehrenreich leaves you with the impression that a lot of corporations have little regard for its workers; furthermore, they are nothing but replaceable peasants, and society’s attitudes towards the working class are not much different from the corporate tyrants.