Thursday, April 5, 2007

The Lobbying Catch-22

A year ago, when Google had just opened a Washington office and was engaged in a hiring binge for well-connected lobbyists, Cato’s David Boaz called the company’s DC digs an

entirely understandable, but . . . tragic symbol of the diversion of America’s productive resources into the unproductive world of political predation and the struggle to resist it.

"For most of a decade," Boaz explained, Google

went about its business, developing software, creating a search engine better than any of us could have dreamed, and innocently making money. Then, as its size and wealth drew the attention of competitors, anti-business activists, and politicians, it was forced to start spending some of its money and brainpower fending off political attacks.

Regrettable as they are, such activities constitute “good” lobbying, insofar as they advance laissez-faire. But as Jeffrey Birnbaum, who goes by the e-mail address, has noted, the old days when lobbying was a mostly defensive practice are rapidly coming to a close. Today, lobbying is an offensive art, wherein K Street “treat[s] Washington like a profit center rather than a place to minimize losses.”

To wit, corporations are lining up for both lighter regulations for themselves and heavier regulations for their competitors.

Google, however, has always been and prided itself on being different—its motto is “Don’t Be Evil.” Of course, these sentiments developed in Google’s infancy, when the company cocooned itself in its Googleplex campus on the other side of the country. Now that it’s in the belly of the beast, how long will it be before Potomac fever makes Google go native?