Monday, November 02, 2009
Over at Fresh Bilge, Alan Sullivan points to a rather lengthy story about one David Rubin, whose occupation in government finance has landed him in hot water for "conspiracy, wire fraud and obstructing federal tax authorities." Sullivan remarks, "The more money that government hands out, the more opportunities for corruption multiply." True enough, but this fire rates more than one alarm, and this shouldn't have been the first: The time to complain about corruption is whenever central planning of any kind is proposed or implemented.
I haven't finished the story and am not sure I will, but two things strike me as worth bringing up. First, the story is as long as it is in part because of the byzantine financial regulations it has to explain, and that make the David Rubins of the world possible -- both in terms of creating a need for people willing to navigate said regulations and in terms of these regulations representing a space at the public trough. I note further that many measures are already in place to prevent earning "too much" profit in these transactions, while at the same time it is absurd to expect municipal investments to grow without compensating the investors.
Second, I am unimpressed by the $6 billion estimate of the annual cost to taxpayers reported to be due to "public corruption, officials' mistakes and lack of disclosure." Every billion is only about three dollars per head in America. This is chump change compared to the enormous existing price tag for central planning at the federal, state, and local levels -- more commonly and variously known as "entitlement programs," "regulations," and "infrastructure." This "non-corrupt" tab is set to expand by trillions on Barack Obama's watch -- after George W. Bush got the ball rolling in 2008 with his financial "bailouts."
Certainly, I do not condone corruption, which would exist (albeit on a much more limited scale) even under capitalism. However, for the same reason I oppose the focus on reducing "earmarks" at the Congressional level, I find that concerns about corruption too frequently and easily distract from the real problem, which is that too many Americans regard theft as legitimate when performed by government officials in the name of central planning. The reason for this is the widespread acceptance of altruism, which excuses such theft on moral grounds.
Unsurprisingly, altruism -- being impossible to practice consistently by anyone interested in remaining alive -- demands its own version of corruption on the moral level: hypocrisy. Hypocrisy, too, is wrong, but too many people for too long have allowed that breach between words and deeds to distract them from asking whether altruism itself is a moral problem.
That would kill two birds with one stone.