Regular readers know that Washington is a very sleazy city. Just as rats and cockroaches are attracted to a dumpster, con artists and fraudsters are attracted to big government.
A bloated budget means many opportunities to get unearned wealth by being politically well connected. A loophole-ridden, 72,000-page tax code creates a sandbox for lobbyists. And special interest groups view Washington’s massive regulatory apparatus the way pigs view a mudbath.
You won’t be surprised to learn that politicians figure out how to get a cut of the action. Here are a few of the sordid details from a report in the Washington Post.
73 members of Congress…have sponsored or co-sponsored legislation in recent years that could benefit businesses or industries in which either they or their family members are involved or invested, according to a Washington Post analysis. The findings emerge from an examination by The Post of financial disclosure forms and public records for all 535 members of the House and Senate. The practice is both legal and permitted under the ethics rules that Congress has written for itself, which allow lawmakers to take actions that benefit themselves or their families except when they are the lone beneficiaries.
To be fair, the actions identified by the Washington Post are not necessarily immoral. A politician who supports a lower capital gains tax rate, for instance, presumably will benefit directly because of less double taxation on his investments and indirectly because of more prosperity.
I don’t view that as wrong. Indeed, the lawmakers use this kind of excuse to justify their behavior.
The legislators, in interviews and through spokesmen, said they saw no conflicts between their legislative actions and holdings. They added that they have a duty to advocate for their constituents, even when those interests align with their own.
But just because they use that excuse, that doesn’t mean their behavior is appropriate. There’s a simple way to determine what’s wrong, immoral, and corrupt.
If politicians take steps that enable everyone – including themselves – to keep more of their own money (or to earn additional money), that’s fine.
If they do something that enables anybody – including themselves – to take money or value from other people, that’s wrong.
Here’s my video explaining the connection between big government and corruption.
The moral of the story shouldn’t be that difficult to understand. Don’t take things that don’t belong to you, which is one of the rules of libertarianism that we hopefully learn in kindergarten (to see the rest of the rules, see the David Boaz quote in this post about Obama’s socialism-for-kids proposal).