Ted Stevens, William Jefferson, Rod Blagojevich, And The Corruption Of State Power

In light of yet another example of the eternal truth that power corrupts, and absoulte power corrupts absolutely, Steve Horwitz wonders why we’re still talking about handing yet more power over to the government:

I simply do not understand how those who are in favor of giving government all of these new powers because they sincerely believe that doing so will work out the way their blackboard designs intended can keep a straight face. What kind of cognitive dissonance must it take to believe that the people YOU are handing power over to are “not like” Ted Stevens or Rod Blagojevich? How deeply must one be in denial or engage in rationalization to believe that they are “different?” How blind must one be to think that trillions of dollars in bailout money won’t go to the highest bidder (as the lobbyists line up on K Street…) in a process different only in its wink-and-a-nod courtesies than Blagojevich’s auctioning off of a Senate seat?

For me, the key insight of public choice is the same insight that underlies Austrian economics: it is the institutional framework that is the key to understanding the choices people make and the unintended outcomes they produce. As I said to a class last week: “Governments can’t act like businesses because businesses only act like businesses because they operate in the institutional environment of private property, monetary exchange, and competition.” In the same way, getting politicians to stop selling off their power isn’t a matter of ethics or psychology, rather it’s about changing the rules of the game such that they do not have as much power to sell. Unfortunately, the current bailout mania is changing those rules in utterly the wrong direction.

Look at it this way: the bailouts are already becoming just a legal form of the essentially the same behavior for which the governor has been indicted.

Why should we ever accept “Oh, but he’s different” as an answer to the claim that explicit bribery and selling off power are just a less subtle form of politics as usual?

The examples of Ted Stevens, William Jefferson, and, now, Rod Blagojevich make clear that the answer is that we shouldn’t.

We shouldn’t trust the Treasury Secretary with unrestricted, unreviewable authority to spend $ 700 billion in taxpayer funds.

We shouldn’t trust a “car czar” to oversee a government-run auto industry in a manner that gives priority to making a profit rather than being politically correct.

For the very reasons that the Founding Fathers enunciated 232 years ago, we shouldn’t trust government with the power we seem all to willing to give it.

There are lessons that can be learned from the political scandals that we’ve seen over the past few years, but I doubt that most people will recognize them.

H/T: Hit & Run

Cross-posted from Below The Beltway

  • KH

    Don’t forget Tom DeLay and Bob Ney…