News Flash: Washington Is Corrupt!

In a touchingly partisan recent essay titled “Follow This Dime,” progressive writer Thomas Frank indicts the federal government under Bush for its having cordially invited and lavishly rewarded corruption by conservative wheeler-dealers: “The ruination they have wrought has been thorough; it has been a professional job.” I have no quarrel with Frank’s characterization of the present federal government and its corporate cronies as utterly, shamelessly corrupt.

Yet, the touching part is the naïveté of Frank’s interpretation and the conclusions he draws from his observations.  In perfect progressive pitch, he sings: “We behold the majestic workings of the free market itself, boring ever deeper into the tissues of the state.” What he has identified, however, is not the free market, but the very antithesis of the free market; it is classic economic fascism.

Because he has misdiagnosed the illness, he naturally prescribes a remedy that not only will fail to effect a cure, but will only cause the pathogen to penetrate more deeply into the state’s tissues. Having railed against the “ruination they [the conservative politicos and their corporate co-conspirators] have wrought,” he declares: “Repairing it will require years of political action.” Fancy that: politicians are manifestly corrupt; bring on more politicians to fix this mess.

Frank actually seems to buy into the quaint notion that once upon a time—before the present conservative ascendancy—government more or less “served the people” in the style touted by old-fashioned civics books such as the one he cites in his article. He fails to appreciate that the federal government has been corrupt from time immemorial; corruption is its raison d’être; its very creation was the product of a corrupt counterrevolution mounted by men who sought to shackle the country with a stronger national government—the better to steer more booty to themselves and their political supporters. After the conspirators unlocked the doors and opened the windows in Philadelphia, the ratification process in the states was not exactly squeaky clean, either.

The main difference between the federal government now and the federal government in the Good Old Days is that the present state is vastly larger in size, scope, and power, and therefore it possesses a great deal more to be corrupt with. As readers with farm backgrounds will appreciate, huge heaps of fresh dung attract enormous swarms of flies. I present you, ladies and gentlemen, with—voilà—Washington, D.C.

One of Frank’s observations, however, does resonate strongly with me. In remarking on corruption’s pervasiveness in the capital city, he notes: “The truth slaps your face in every hotel lobby in town.” I am especially struck by this remark because for many years I have been posing a challenge to those who raise questions about what they take to be my “conspiracy theories” of how Washington works. My reply has long been: get thyself to any big Washington hotel early in the morning of a weekday; sit down in the dining room and order a big breakfast; and, then, for the next several hours, listen carefully to the conservations taking place at the surrounding tables. I maintain that in a large number of cases these conversations will present every sign of being de facto conspiracies by special-interest representatives, their  lobbyists,  and their co-conspirators against the public interest. That is to say, in many instances, these diners will turn out to be aspiring thieves who are plotting how best to bore into the Treasury and make off with boat-loads of the taxpayers’ money.

Someone once said, I’m not interested in conspiracy theories, I’m interested in conspiracy facts. I concur.

As for corruption, what is the capital city of a globe-girdling empire for if not for rampant corruption.  Notice further that the same city serves as the headquarters of a sprawling welfare/therapeutic/nanny/police state on the domestic front, and the possibilities are limitless. If people were interested in behaving decently, they would never have constructed this monstrosity of a government in the first place, so we can scarcely pretend to be shocked when presented with evidence that sex acts are being committed in the whorehouse.

Robert Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at the Independent Institute, author or editor of over fourteen Independent books, and Editor at Large of Independent’s quarterly journal The Independent Review.
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