There Are Twice As Many Lobbyists Today As There Were When The Country Had Half as Many People

Everyone hates lobbyists, especially lobbyists who lobby on behalf of groups that they dislike, but this sometimes leads to a strange kind of hysteria like Fareed Zakaria’s factoid that the number of lobbyists has grown over time:

In the mid-1950s, there were 5,000 registered lobbyists in Washington. Today, there are 12,000 — and, by several counts, many, many more, because thousands have reclassified themselves as “consultants” and “strategic advisers.

It turns out that in 1950 there were 151 million people living in the United States whereas by 2010 the population was closer to 309 million. By the same token, I assume there are more lobbyists working in the Austin, TX area than in the vicinity of Montpelier, VT not because there’s anything particularly nefarious abotu Texas but because Texas is much larger than Vermont.

The most legitimate complaint you can level along these lines is that while the number of Americans has doubled and the number of lobbyists has doubled along with it, the number of members of congress has stayed the same. That means that any given citizen—or, indeed, any given lobbyist—has a much harder time getting his or her concerns placed in front of the eyes of a legislator. This strikes me as a real problem. And one that’s not unique to congress. Each of the five members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has something like two million constituents, which is an awful lot for a fairly low level of government. Some of these problems of bigness have easy fixes—you could add more supervisors to LA County very easily and more House members to congress relatively easily—and some of them are quite hard. But you shouldn’t regard it as some kind of shocking scandal that as the United States adds people it also adds people whose job it is to convey the concerns of other people to members of congress.