Bribes and Crony Capitalism – who holds the blame?

We had a nice discussion today at the lunch table regarding the Supreme Court’s recent decision striking down a great deal of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill. I won’t delve into the main issues of McCain-Feingold, but I would like to touch on bribes to public officials and crony capitalism.

We’ve all known for some time that bribing public officials is big business. Whether it’s small payouts to local building inspectors or major campaign contributions to DC politicians in return for large “earmark” projects in return. This is putrid to say the least. The question I pose today is “who is more to blame for this issue?”

We basically have a two-party transaction. Private citizens (often heads of major corporations) will pay money to duly-elected politicians. The politicians will then use either public funds for direct projects by the corporations in question, or their legislative authority to pass laws favorable to the business interests of their corporate sponsors. So, who do we hold to account, the corporate heads or the politicians? Clearly the behavior is unsavory on both sides, but I submit that one party has behaved more badly.

To get to the bottom of this, we need to consider the duties and responsibilities of the parties in question. The corporate head has a responsibility to the share holders of the corporation to improve corporate profitability. The politician is entrusted by the public with the authority to legislate and defend the rights of the citizenry.

In this light, I suggest that the corporate head may have acted immorally, but his actions are totally in line with his responsibilities. If profits can be increased and business improved via legal bribes, then in some sense he has an obligation to undertake such an enterprise. The politician, on the other hand, has no excuse. Quid-pro-quo from politicians in no way-shape-or-form serves the public interest or trust. The politician who accepts the bribe and responds in kind with public funds or twisted legislation and behaved in his own interests, but NOT the interests of the public to whom he is responsible.

So, do I say this to indicate that we should take it easy on the corporate heads – not at all. My point is merely that the problem is fundamentally one of political power. If the government does not have the authority to enact unjust legislation in favor of certain corporations, or directly spend public funds for paybacks, then such bribes would simply disappear. After all, the corporate head acted logically in response to an environment in which bribes are profitable. If that environment disappears, so will the bribes.

So please, no more whining about how we need greater legislation and restriction on freedom of speech from corporations (or unions for that matter). What we need is politicians who will not sell out the public. What we need is a governmental system that cannot be used for personal gain by the politicians. What we need is limited government … and freedom for all.

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