Posts tagged corruption

Column on The Cost of Lack of Trust

The Cost of Lack of Trust

Tibor R. Machan

Over the last couple of days a bunch of announcements came from our government, including warning about travel to Europe where terror plans are said to be afoot by Al-Qaeda. Another warning came from the man convicted of trying to blow up Times Square–he said after he was sentenced to life in prison that Americans will be victims of terror big time. And I could go on but my point can be made with just these cases. I do not trust the warnings from our government although neither do I know them to be unjustified.

The government of the United States of America is on a power crusade, taking every opportunity it can to deprive its citizens of their resources and control over their own lives and seem to be intent on imposing on them endless rules and regulations. These are, I am convinced, true believers in state fundamentalism: Every problems must be solved by means of expanded government, both in size and, especially, in scope. So how can I believe it when the government declares that there is increasing danger around us, all of which seems routinely to require that government gain greater and greater power over us?

I am no conspiracy buff and don’t have the idea that what these folks do is done deliberately simply so as to gain raw power over others–most people need some kind of tall tale to tell themselves in order to rationalize such power–but I do believe firmly that their sincere convictions lead them in that direction, whether these be about how the economy needs more of their regulation or how they must have greater access to our lives (including it appears to all our electronic communication capabilities), or how without them we would all be left helpless in the world, or how some other problems faced by us all requires exactly their expertise and good will and, most of all, legal power over us. I am eager to be disproved about their basic political corruption, in part because of my belief that human beings in all walks of life can do well or badly or somewhere on the continuum in between and I do not see politicians to be fundamentally evil.

Not being an anarchist, I do not hold that all who work for governments must be vicious–judges, the police, soldiers, bailiffs, border guards, or whoever. But those in government–especially in offices that have no business existing in the first place since they have nothing to do with protecting our basic rights–do seem to me to be much more tempted to seek power over other people than are the rest of us. And they do very often yield to this temptation, with long stories about why what they are doing is no vice but a virtue! They have mostly convinced themselves that all the more or less coercive meddling in our lives is a good thing for them to carry out–regulators, however much they fumble around trying to figure out what on earth their efforts could do to improve matters, are probably quite proud of what they do in their jobs. Maybe even IRS employees consider their work honorable!

I recall an associate of mine at the Reason Foundation had gotten a post in one regulatory office of the federal government and she came back to report on just how impressed she was with all the hard work she witnessed by the people who worked where she became one of the officials, despite the fact that she never gave up her idea that government regulations are ultimately more harmful than helpful! Pretty amazing.

The seductiveness of government work appears to be very powerful, even with those who are sworn to uphold principles that fly in the face of what the officials are called upon to do. Perhaps this is in part because many people hold to the belief in life that it is “the thought that counts,” never mind how destructive the results over which they believe we have little control. (This, by the way, is the common sense version of the famous doctrine of the highly influential 17th Century German philosopher Immanuel Kant who taught that there is only one absolutely good thing in the universe, namely, the good will, i.e., the sincere intention to do the right thing whatever it may be.)

With all the misconduct that emanates from seats of political power, all the BS produced by politicians and their apologists, all the out and out corruption evident throughout the land by politicians and bureaucrats, it is awfully difficult to suddenly become trusting when these same people tell us that there is danger lurking from terrorists. And frankly even if there is, is it more severe than the danger we face from fellow drivers on the roads where we would be spending time if instead of traveling abroad we stayed home? (Why, BTW, are there no studies publicized about that? Back during the brief scare from Libyan terrorism in Europe in Spring of 1986 I believe it was, after the US had an altercation with that country, an economist calculated the probability of death or injury from terrorism to American tourists traveling in Europe versus from road crashes here at home where they would be spending their time instead and it appeared that the latter posed a great threat than the former!)

When government is as big, corrupt, and unruly as America’s is these days, how can you trust anything said by government officials?

Column on Business versus Business

Business Versus Business

Tibor R. Machan

One can think of business as a profession, like medicine or engineering, and ask whether it is worthwhile or valuable. Should people in their communities welcome business or not? Or one can think of business as the collection of commercial institutions, such as the banks, corporations, shops, and so forth that are active in one’s community.

It is one thing to oppose the former, quite another to be critical of the latter. One may well find business valuable as an institution in a human community, something to be embraced and supported, even as one considers the great majority of existing businesses guilty of innumerable types of malpractice. The same can be so with any other endeavor, such as medicine or entertainment or farming. While as properly understood all of those could be assets in a human community, their actual manifestation at any period of time could also be highly lamentable.

In America, just as elsewhere in the world, it is arguable that too many businesses are engaged in malpractice even while the institution of business, sans the malpractice, is something very much to be prized and in considerable need. The malpractice I am referring to involves mainly getting into bed with politicians and bureaucrats whereby too many businesses are actually attempting to subvert the very nature of their profession. These outfits run to Washington and other centers of political power to gain favor against their domestic and foreign competitors and thus flagrantly betray the institution of business. Of course this is not too difficult to understand, even to excuse, given that government has become thoroughly corrupt by involving itself by picking winners and losers, in favoring various businesses and disfavoring others, with special legislation, regulation and other policies that undermine free and open competition in the market place.

Consider as an analogy professional sports. If the organizations that administers the rules of a given sport were to have established as a routine practice favoring certain teams over others, if referees and umpires took bribes as a matter of course, it would be no surprise that the various teams would try to outdo each other with their offer of bribes to these officials. Or if a judge in some criminal jurisdiction established a record of corruptibility, it would be no surprise if litigants tried to approach their case not with good arguments, not with facility with the law but by way of coming up with the most attractive bribe for the judge. Those making use of bribes would, of course, be complicit in the corruption of the system but the main fault would lie with those in the administration who make a practice of selling out, of in effect betraying their oath of office.

When Bill Gates’s Microsoft Corporation was being hounded by the Department of Justice for allegedly violating antitrust laws–supposedly by means, for example, of bundling its products, something that should never be deemed objectionable let alone illegal–he was reportedly advised that his practice of staying away from Washington, of refusing to fund politicians running for election, was the source of how he was being treated. In time Gates learned his lesson and began to game the system. Instead of remaining independent of politics and relying mainly on technological and market savvy, he followed the practices of his competitors by supporting politicians of both major parties running for office. By now, of course, Microsoft Corporation is there with all the others who take part in what some call crony capitalism or what is simply the corruption of capitalism. (If the sport of tennis were administrated similarly, would we call it crony tennis or simply corrupt tennis?)

One can be an enthusiastic supporter of business as an upstanding institution in a human community but at the same time be vehemently critical of how actual firms are being managed vis-a-vis their ties with politics. But the main source of the problem is how the system of government in a society makes it not just possible but nearly imperative for people in business to become corrupt so as to be able to survive and prosper.