January 25, 2006
The Real Political Corruption: Part II

By Thomas Sowell

The over-riding quest for re-election is at the heart of the corruption of public officials who betray the public trust in order to get the money needed to pay for their political campaigns. It is hard to see how that corruption can be ended, except by ending re-elections with a limit of one term and a ban on running for another office for several years.

That way, the one term can be spent taking care of the duties of the office instead of taking care of promoting a political career in that office or other offices.

There are, of course, other sources of corruption. Members of Congress whose work puts them in the rarefied company of movers and shakers in the private sector, who make ten or a hundred times what Congressmen are paid, may find it tempting to accept perks like free flights on corporate jets or weekends at expensive watering holes. Some may hope for lucrative jobs after leaving politics.

Maybe that won't influence Congressional votes. But maybe it will.

The stakes are too high for us to be penny-wise and pound-foolish by putting trillions of dollars of the taxpayers' money in the hands of elected officials who are paid less than the beginning salary of a top student from a top law school.

If we paid every member of Congress $10 million a year, that would not increase the federal budget by one percent.

Chances are that it would reduce the federal budget considerably, when members of the Senate or the House of Representatives no longer needed campaign contributions or the personal favors of special interest groups and their lobbyists.

One term in the Senate would bring in $60 million, which most people could live on for life, without being beholden to anybody and without having to seek a job afterwards for special interests, much less having to sell their soul to continue a political career.
Money is not the only thing that corrupts. Power also corrupts and some people go into politics for power.

Nothing can be done about such people -- except force them to compete with other people, drawn from a far larger pool, including top people in highly paid professions who today can seldom afford to serve in Congress at the expense of their family's standard of living and financial security.

Do we want laws made by people who would sacrifice their families in order to get their hands on the levers of power? Or people who can serve in Congress because they inherited wealth -- and therefore have never had to personally experience what ordinary people experience and learn from, including government red tape?

We need laws written by people who have confronted life in the real world, not in the sheltered world of trust fund recipients or the insulated cocoon of academia. Nor do we need people who have nothing to offer in the private sector that would earn them more than what they currently receive in Congress.

Inexperienced power seekers include not only members of Congress but also their staffs, who are often fresh out of academia, with little experience in the real world, many untested notions, and often a touch of vanity as one of the anointed.

The idea of paying the kind of money that would attract the kind of people we need in government runs against many prejudices. Just plain envy is one. Some people feel that those they elect should not make so much more than they do.

But think about it: If your child had some life-threatening condition that required some very demanding surgery, would you worry about whether the surgeon who saves your child's life had an annual income that was several times what you make?

Members of Congress have not only trillions of dollars of our tax money in their hands, they also have in their hands our lives and the lives of our children and our nation. Are you going to worry about their incomes or about what caliber of people we can attract to make the momentous decisions that have to be made?

Yes, it would be nice if all public officials were self-sacrificing individuals who had no other thought than doing their best for their country. It would also be nice if voters watched elected officials 24/7. But the best is the enemy of the good. The road to Utopia has repeatedly turned out to be the road to hell, in countries around the world.

Copyright 2006 Creators Syndicate

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