January 24, 2006
The Jack Abramoff
scandal has put political corruption front and center in Washington
but this particular scandal, or even this particular kind of scandal,
barely scratches the surface of corruption in government.
It is not
that all members of Congress, or even most members of Congress,
are taking outright bribes. Government is corrupted whenever it
is diverted from its avowed purpose and directed toward some other
goal, especially goals that conflict with its purpose.
general kind of corruption is much bigger than a few bribes and
has far weightier consequences. Staggering as it is to think of
the trillions of dollars in runaway spending by the federal government,
that is just part of the story.
still more trillions of dollars being promised in Social Security
pensions and Medicare payments, for which there is not enough
money in the till. It is like writing checks without enough money
in the bank to redeem them.
of Congress win votes by promising such goodies. That leaves it
up to future members of Congress to figure out how to welsh on
those promises, which could not be met without jacking up tax
rates to unprecedented levels.
probably wouldn't provide enough money, since confiscatory tax
rates confiscate the incentives needed to keep the economy going.
An alternative political ploy would be to pay people the amount
of money that was promised but in dollars so inflated that they
won't buy anything close to what dollars bought when they were
paid into the Social Security system.
of people to rely on pensions that are not going to be there is
corrupting government on a scale that makes bribing a few Congressmen
look like minor league stuff.
the powers of government is widespread at every level of government.
homes for which people have worked and sacrificed for a lifetime,
in order to turn the property over to someone else who is expected
to pay more taxes, is a corruption of the power of eminent domain,
which was put there to enable government to do things like build
a dam or highway to benefit everyone.
California, the local politicians forced Home Depot to build a
little shelter in which illegal aliens can wait to be picked up
for work as day laborers -- for other people. The power to grant
or withhold building permits was another power meant to be exercised
for the public good, not to impose arbitrary extortions. But that
kind of corruption is common in many communities.
be done about such corruption?
think we need higher standards of behavior among public officials
and/or stricter scrutiny by voters. Both would of course be wonderful,
if they happened. But what are we to do in the meantime -- say,
the next few centuries or the next millennium?
with ancient history knows that people have been the way they
are for thousands of years. Do not look for a change in human
nature in 2006.
What we can
change are the incentives and constraints.
At the heart
of much government corruption is one simple thing: Re-election.
It takes big bucks to run a political campaign and all that most
politicians have to sell is the power of government that they
control. That is what they do sell in various ways to various
try to deal with the problem of re-election but the fatal weakness
of term limits is the "s" at the end of the word "limits."
So long as there are multiple terms, the first term is going to
be spent trying to get re-elected to a second term -- instead
of devoting that time to serving the public interest.
needs to be done is to put a limit of one term in one office and
a waiting period of several years before being elected or appointed
to another office in government. In other words, make political
who are not career politicians run the government? People who
were not career politicians created the government and the Constitution
of the United States of America.
It was one
of the most incredible achievements in history. Who among our
career politicians today would be capable of such a feat?
2006 Creators Syndicate