Another letter to the editor from ARI:
Washington’s attempts to fight rampant corruption will amount to nothing unless they address its basic cause.
The fundamental reason for today’s rampant corruption is that our government has adopted a corrupt purpose. Once a protector of the life, liberty, and property of every American, the US government now uses its power to pursue an undefined “public good” by sacrificing some Americans to other Americans.
If we want to get rid of the Jack Abramoffs and the “bridges to nowhere,” we have to return our government to its sole legitimate purpose: the protection of individual rights.
Dr. Yaron Brook
Ayn Rand Institute Executive Director
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Yaron Brook is echoing Ayn Rand’s powerful comments on source of government corruption from “Pull Peddlers” in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal:
So long as a concept such as “the public interest” (or the “social” or “national” or “international” interest) is regarded as a valid principle to guide legislation=lobbies and pressure groups will necessarily continue to exist. Since there is no such entity as “the public,” since the public is merely a number of individuals, the idea that “the public interest” supersedes private interests and rights, can have but one meaning: that the interests and rights of some individuals take precedence over the interests and rights of others.
If so, then all men and all private groups have to fight to the death for the privilege of being regarded as “the public.” The government’s policy has to swing like an erratic pendulum from group to group, hitting some and favoring others, at the whim of any given moment–and so grotesque a profession as lobbying (selling “influence”) becomes a full-time job. If parasitism, favoritism, corruption, and greed for the unearned did not exist, a mixed economy would bring them into existence.
Since there is no rational justification for the sacrifice of some men to others, there is no objective criterion by which such a sacrifice can be guided in practice. All “public interest” legislation (and any distribution of money taken by force from some men for the unearned benefit of others) comes down ultimately to the grant of an undefined, undefinable, non-objective, arbitrary power to some government officials.
The worst aspect of it is not that such a power can be used dishonestly, but that it cannot be used honestly. The wisest man in the world, with the purest integrity, cannot find a criterion for the just, equitable, rational application of an unjust, inequitable, irrational principle. The best that an honest official can do is to accept no material bribe for his arbitrary decision; but this does not make his decision and its consequences more just or less calamitous.
A man of clear-cut convictions is impervious to anyone’s influence. But when clear-cut convictions are impossible, personal influences take over. When a man’s mind is trapped in the foggy labyrinth of the non-objective, that has no exits and no solutions, he will welcome any quasi-persuasive, semi-plausible argument. Lacking certainty, he will follow anyone’s facsimile thereof. He is the natural prey of social “manipulators,” of propaganda salesmen, of lobbyists.
When any argument is as inconclusive as any other, the subjective, emotional, or “human” element becomes decisive. A harried legislator may conclude, consciously or subconsciously, that the friendly man who smiled at him at the cocktail party last week was a good person who would not deceive him and whose opinion can be trusted safely. It is by considerations such as these that officials may dispose of your money, your effort, and your future.
Although cases of actual corruption do undoubtedly exist among legislators and government officials, they are not a major motivating factor in today’s situation. It is significant that in such cases as have been publicly exposed, the bribes were almost pathetically small. Men who held the power to dispose of millions of dollars, sold their favors for a thou-sand-dollar rug or a fur coat or a refrigerator.
The truth, most likely, is that they did not regard it as bribery or as a betrayal of their public trust; they did not think that their particular decision could matter one way or another, in the kind of causeless choices they had to make, in the absence of any criteria, in the midst of the general orgy of tossing away an apparently ownerless wealth. Men who would not sell out their country for a million dollars, are selling it out for somebody’s smile and a vacation trip to Florida. Paraphrasing John Galt: “It is of such pennies and smiles that the destruction of your country is made.”
Although Republicans and Democrats periodically piss and moan about government corruption, special interests, and the like, not a single politician today genuinely opposes the purchase of government favors. That would require some considerable knowledge of and commitment to the principles of individual rights — and none have that. Instead, they stridently defend the mixed economy, including its attendant warfare between pressure groups itching for government dough. That’s why politicians today content themselves with bitter complaining about corruption — when it involves the schmuck from the other party. So a few years ago, Republicans were bitching about Clinton and Gore’s campaign finances. Today, Democrats are bitching about Republican involvement with Jack Ambramoff. A game of Pong would be more interesting — and more honest.