Thomas Sowell

The Jack Abramoff scandal has put political corruption front and center in Washington but this particular scandal, or even this particular kind of scandal, barely scratches the surface of corruption in government.
It is not that all members of Congress, or even most members of Congress, are taking outright bribes. Government is corrupted whenever it is diverted from its avowed purpose and directed toward some other goal, especially goals that conflict with its purpose.

 This more general kind of corruption is much bigger than a few bribes and has far weightier consequences. Staggering as it is to think of the trillions of dollars in runaway spending by the federal government, that is just part of the story.

 There are still more trillions of dollars being promised in Social Security pensions and Medicare payments, for which there is not enough money in the till. It is like writing checks without enough money in the bank to redeem them.

 Present members of Congress win votes by promising such goodies. That leaves it up to future members of Congress to figure out how to welsh on those promises, which could not be met without jacking up tax rates to unprecedented levels.

 Even that probably wouldn't provide enough money, since confiscatory tax rates confiscate the incentives needed to keep the economy going. An alternative political ploy would be to pay people the amount of money that was promised but in dollars so inflated that they won't buy anything close to what dollars bought when they were paid into the Social Security system.

 Getting millions of people to rely on pensions that are not going to be there is corrupting government on a scale that makes bribing a few Congressmen look like minor league stuff.

 Misuse of the powers of government is widespread at every level of government.

 Confiscating homes for which people have worked and sacrificed for a lifetime, in order to turn the property over to someone else who is expected to pay more taxes, is a corruption of the power of eminent domain, which was put there to enable government to do things like build a dam or highway to benefit everyone.

 In Burbank, California, the local politicians forced Home Depot to build a little shelter in which illegal aliens can wait to be picked up for work as day laborers -- for other people. The power to grant or withhold building permits was another power meant to be exercised for the public good, not to impose arbitrary extortions. But that kind of corruption is common in many communities.

 What can be done about such corruption?

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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