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Special Interest Groups: Protecting society from special interests

In political literature, we often encounter mention of special interest groups. Have you ever asked yourself: “Am I a member of one?” We can say with conviction that you are, indeed, just as we all are. So what exactly does this term mean?

Alexis deTocqueville, the Englishman that toured the United States in the 1830s and then wrote so perceptively about life in this new country, pointed out that an unusual characteristic of the American people (compared to the peoples of England and Europe) was our propensity to join together in groups with a common interest.

As we each examine our personal relationships today we find that we are associated (formally or informally) with a number of different groups, such as a church, book club, fraternal society, workers’ union, environmental group, political party, private golf club; the list is endless. And every one of these groups is interested in affecting public policy to protect and enhance the interests of that group.

In the vast majority of cases, the interests of these groups are not in conflict with those of society as a whole, but in a few cases, the group may seek advantages that would come at the expense of society at large.

It is in those cases that we have the potential for strong conflict, with the sides contending hard to prevail in a political dogfight. And this is where the term special interest group takes on a pejorative meaning. Of course, the proponent of a position will never acknowledge that their proposed benefit must come from the public; rather, they portray their interests as synonymous with society at large, always seeking to obfuscate the fundamental issue by diverting attention in another direction.

We must learn to identify the true objective of special interest purposes and evaluate them objectively, keeping in mind that there is no free lunch: Someone must pay!

Frank Keeney

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