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December 15, 2008
Less Government, Less
now just about every American knows that Illinois Governor Rod
Blagojevich has been arrested for trying to sell Barack Obama’s Senate
seat, for taking a children’s hospital hostage pending the receipt of
political contributions and for threatening obstacles for the Tribune
Company if it retains Chicago Tribune editorial members who are
critical of him.
What too many Americans don’t know, however, is that similar behavior
happens every day in American politics, and it happens everywhere.
The U.S. Department of Justice reports that over 1,000 persons every
year face public corruption charges. These numbers include everyone from
federal officials to state officials and all the way down to local
officials. But unfortunately, these numbers still fail to give us an
accurate picture of today’s corruption in politics.
From the crook’s perspective, Blagojevich was foolish enough to be
incredibly blatant about his activities. And the same goes for many
others who get caught. This means that the crooks who avoid getting
caught are, indeed, the best crooks out there – and they are the ones
who continue to operate today.
Learning that a Senate seat was being sold was offensive and shocking to
many Americans. But what they tend to forget is that Senate seats and
other political appointments are not the only things that could be, and
are being, sold by politicians all the time.
Taxpayer funding for special pet projects is continuously sold by most
members of the U.S. Congress to those who play the game through
political contributions and private treats. These earmarks are the most
obvious and continuous form of kickbacks we see in politics today.
Disturbing questions can indeed be raised about most earmarks. Barack
Obama, for example, requested a $1 million earmark for a Chicago
hospital a year after it raised his wife’s salary by $200,000. Sounds
like a good investment for the hospital.
Indeed, politicians have made it very profitable for special interests
to contribute, entertain and lobby for money. The auto industry and its
affiliates, for example, have spent $65 million in the first nine months
of this year on political contributions and lobbying, and the unions
have invested substantial amounts as well. One would think that a
struggling industry and unions would use such large sums of money on
directly saving their companies and jobs. But in return for throwing it
at politicians, they will probably receive a multi-billion dollar
bailout in the coming months. Recipients of corporate welfare, such as
agricultural subsidies, enjoy similarly excellent deals with
politicians. The same goes for government contractors and beneficiaries
of selective regulation.
How are any of these illustrations any less shocking and deplorable than
what Blagojevich did? There are some clear answers to this question. The
offenders are a lot more careful and a lot less manifest about their
actions than Blagojevich was. And they take the same actions en masse,
agreeing to scratch each other’s backs and to protect each other from
criticism and investigation.
The silver lining of the Blagojevich scandal is that it helps
to dent popular over-confidence in government, and makes people
considerably more suspicious of their officials. And this is
exactly what America needs.
When people stop putting their complete faith in government, they will
realize that they can only trust it with fewer and fewer
responsibilities. They will stop wanting the government to “do
something” about perceived problems just for the sake of “doing
something,” an unfortunate tendency witnessed in today’s democracies.
Can such corrupt behavior in government ever be fully
eliminated? Probably not. It is a cost democracies have to accept. But
the cost can very much be minimized by making government as small as
possible and by giving politicians and bureaucrats as little power as
possible. This would leave them with little room and little incentive to
betray their constituents, and would give Americans and law enforcement
fewer political areas to patrol.
Some have suggested a significant salary increase for public
officials as a remedy for corruption problems. Although Americans’
inclination is to associate such a move with more corruption, giving
politicians and bureaucrats a raise could actually have very beneficial
effects. It could reduce the incentive for corruption, curtail the
influence of special-interest money and attract much more qualified
candidates – the type that run our best businesses and universities. If
a $1 million salary sharply reduces the role of money and corruption
among members of Congress, thereby bringing down the costs of earmarks,
subsidies and bailouts, then the raise would prove to be an excellent
investment for taxpayers.
Corruption has played a role in politics since the beginnings of
civilization, and will likely never be completely eliminated. But it is
a fact that a smaller government would bring with it a significant
reduction in corruption. Government power and corruption muscle are
directly related, and unfortunately, we currently have too much of both.
© 2008 North Star
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