The libertarian novelist Ayn Rand wrote about the "aristocracy of pull." What she meant was that in a crony capitalist economy, merit often takes a back seat to political power.
Who you know — and who knows you. In other words, pull.
An example of this is the decision announced earlier this year by defense contractor Aerojet Rocketdyne to pick up sticks and move development operations for the heavy lift AR1 rocket motor, and along with it, some 1,100 jobs, from its Rancho Cordova, California location to Mississippi and Alabama.
Coincidentally, several powerful lawmakers who just happen to be members of the Senate Appropriations Committee that will determine whether Rocketdyne is the beneficiary of more — or less — federal money also happen to represent ... the two states where Rocketdyne plans to relocate its operations.
They are Sens. Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Richard Shelby of Alabama. And — in the House — Alabama Reps. Robert Aderholt and Martha Roy.
Together, these lawmakers wield tremendous power (of the purse) over Rocketdyne. The company's future — or lack thereof — depends increasingly on political considerations.
Whether Rocketdyne's rockets are good rockets is almost of incidental relevance. The number one consideration for any business doing business with the federal government is placating the powers-that-be. To slap backs — and grease palms. Millions may depend upon it.
This was how things worked in the old Soviet Union — one reason there no longer is a Soviet Union. Particularly when political considerations trump other considerations, as happened in the old Soviet Union. The end result is invariably waste, inefficiency, and (perhaps worst of all) things that don't work very well, or work at all.
Like the perpetually grounded Soviet space shuttle, for instance. It collects dust at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in the deserts of Kazhakstan.
And before that, the never-ready-for-prime-time Soviet N1 moon rocket. Which had trouble getting off the pad in one piece, never mind reaching the Moon.
But the design bureaus of both were in tight with the Soviet political apparat, which determined which Soviet design bureaus got work and which did not. Pull rather than merit ultimately determined the outcome.
A similar problem threatens to repeat here for the same reasons.
Rocketdyne claims the move to Huntsville (and NASA's Stennis Space Center) is motivated by the lesser regulatory and tax burden in Mississippi and Alabama vs. California. There is no doubt some truth to this. But it's also a fact that the move will benefit the constituencies of the politicians in Alabama and Mississippi who just happen to sit on the Defense Appropriations Committee and who will no doubt appreciate Rocketdyne's choice of a new home — and the home state jobs (and tax revenues) that will come with it.
Perhaps, like a doddering Leonid Brezhnev waving somnolently from atop Lenin's Tomb, they will smile upon the company when it comes time to dole out dollars during the next round of appropriations and earmarking.One hand washes the other.
No big surprise, other contractors whose business depends on pull also just happen to have operations in Alabama. These include Honeywell, Raytheon, and Boeing, among others.
All of them have lobbyists and political action committees in addition to rocket scientist and engineers. Aerojet Rocketdyne's political action committee, for instance, gave $4,000 during the last election cycle to Cochran's campaign, $4,500 to Shelby's and another $3,000 to Aderholt's. These are not huge sums, but the fact that defense contractors feel obliged to financially support the campaigns of politicians who just happen to be in a position to help — or hurt — them is probably not coincidental, either.
This is, of course, the way Washington has worked for decades. But that doesn't mean it should continue to work that way — or even that it can.
Remember the Soviet Union. History could repeat.
Republicans have a real opportunity to change the way things work — before things stop working, as they did in the not-so-dearly-departed Soviet Union. They hold all three branches of government — a happenstance arising out of public dissatisfaction with the way business as usual. With crony capitalism — and pull rather than merit.
Perhaps the time has come to heed another Republican's advice.
Some 60 years ago, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned the country in his Farewell Address about the corrupting influence of money and power, particularly emphasizing the effect on the defense industry.
Rocketdyne, SpaceX, Boeing, and the rest shouldn't have to worry so much about pull; their main concern ought to be their products.
Eric Peters is an automotive journalist and author.
Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions.