Righteous indignation over allegations about Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's "pay to play" brazenness camouflages the corruption inherent in all government. After all, what does it mean to be a politician if not that you promise favors -- coerced from the taxpayers -- in return for support from key constituencies?
Ted Stevens and Randy "Duke" Cunningham behaved egregiously enough to be convicted, but their actions didn't cost taxpayers nearly as much as what their colleagues did supposedly acting in the "public interest."
As The New York Times reported, "$700 billion ... seemed to be an ocean of money. But after one of the biggest lobbying free-for-alls in memory, it suddenly looks like a dwindling pool. ... The Treasury Department is under siege by an army of hired guns. ..."
Sen. Charles Schumer has delivered for that army, consistently voting for every bailout. He also "helped raise more than $120 million for the Democrats' Senate campaign committee, drawing nearly four times as much money from Wall Street as the National Republican Senatorial Committee," said The Times.
What Schumer does is legal, but the billions he gives to failing companies comes from taxpayers. A formal quid pro quo between politicians and bailed-out companies is not necessary. But everyone knows that a beneficiary is more likely to contribute to a congressman who votes for a bailout. They are also more likely to hire that congressman as a lobbyist when he retires. It is disgusting. But it is legal.
H.L. Mencken was right: "Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods."
The Public Choice economists remind us that contrary to what the civics textbooks imply, public "servants" have the same ambitions as the rest of us --wealth, career, influence, prestige. But there's a big difference between us and them. Politicians, bureaucrats and the people they "rescue" get money through force -- taxation. Don't think taxation is force? Try not paying, and see what happens.
The rest of us must achieve our goals though voluntary exchange in the marketplace. That difference -- force versus voluntary exchange -- makes all the difference in the world.
In "The Road to Serfdom", F.A. Hayek titled chapter 10 "Why the Worst Get on Top," pointing out why the "unscrupulous and uninhibited are likely to be more successful [than moral people] in a society tending toward totalitarianism. ... [T]he readiness to do bad things becomes a path to promotion and power."