Getting VIP Treatment

Andrew Leonard is much less sympathetic to the politicians with VIP deals from Countrywide than I am.

There’s still a fundamental issue here: the spectacle of powerful Washington insiders getting fondled by corporate interests is unseemly and undemocratic.

He’s quite right. But if it’s true that they had no idea what was going on, what would he have them do about it? And, more generally, if you’re a powerful Washington insider, how do you stop people "fondling" you in this sense?

Is it seemly to demur when you easily get a tough reservation at a restaurant, you’re shown to the best table, and you’re served extra free dishes, compliments of the chef? What about when you’re upgraded on airlines and in hotels? How can you ask the carpenter making your cabinets to do no better a job than he would for anybody else? How can you judge whether your tailor is really charging you the full market rate for your suits?

It’s a fact of life that VIPs get VIP treatment because they’re VIPs, even when there’s no possible quid pro quo, and even when they have no idea that the service they’re getting really is VIP treatment. It’s human nature for people to try that little bit harder and put extra effort into pleasing the rich and powerful when they have the opportunity. Sometimes those people making the extra effort are going to be the likes of Angelo Mozilo. And there’s very little, in practice, that either the VIPs or the likes of Larry Lessig can do about it.

I’m sure Mozilo hoped that the politicians who had a good experience with their Countrywide mortgages might be more well-disposed towards his company if they ever encountered it in their professional lives. But I’m sure that just about anybody providing a service to an important Washington insider feels much the same way. So while what happened might look unseemly and undemocratic, I think it’s folly to hope that such activity might ever go away.

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