I think that the editors of Issues & Insights are right in their explanation of why Elizabeth Warren’s plan to reduce corruption in Washington will fail as the plans and promises of every president of the last 30 years have done:
Whatever the merits of Warren’s specific anti-corruption proposals, the simple truth is that the rest of her agenda would have the exact opposite effect.
The problem with all these “anti-corruption” efforts is that they are trying to treat the symptom, not the disease.
And, in this case, the disease is Big Government. Put simply, the larger and more unencumbered the federal government is, the more it will feed the lobbyist industry and the political corruption that Warren says she wants to root out.
And, boy, does Warren want Big Government. Her agenda — Green New Deal, Medicare for All, free college, a vast increase in the regulatory state — would more than double the size of government.
The connection between the size of government and corruption isn’t just idle speculation.
Writing in the Global Anticorruption Blog, Harvard law professor Matthew Stephenson says several studies have found a clear correlation in the U.S. between the size of state governments and corruption.
“Within the U.S., when controlling for a number of other economic and demographic factors, states with larger public sectors seem to have higher corruption,” he writes.
A 1998 study, for example, shows “government size, in particular, spending by state governments, does indeed have a strong positive influence on corruption.”
A 2012 study, titled “Live Free or Bribe,” looked at the number of government officials convicted in a state for crimes related to corruption and found that the more economic freedom there was in the state, the less corruption resulted.
“Economic freedom,” the study found, “has a negative impact on corruption.”
What this means is that Warren’s plan — which would result in a drastic expansion in government and an equally sharp reduction of economic freedom — would produce a steep increase in corruption.
but they’re not pointing their finger in precisely the right direction. The reason that all of these anti-corruption plans fail is human nature. People follow their incentives.
However, other than a few lonely anarchists very few people want to end Big Government. They want a military capable of defending the country and to be able to trust the wholesomeness and utility of their food and pharmaceuticals for old people to be able to get health care regardless of their resources and all of the other thousands of things that government provides. When you add them all up it means Big Government.
I don’t believe that means that we are doomed to an ever-deepening slough of corruption. It means that eternal vigilance, etc. It means we need to guarantee that the rules are followed. It means that we cannot just wind up an EPA or an SEC and expect them to perform their intended functions without giving them clearly defined duties and ensuring that they color within the lines. It means that we can’t just trust that officials including elected officials are doing their jobs. That’s hard work and few people want to do it.
It means that government should be limited to its enumerated powers and severely punished when it strays. It will always be in continuing approximation.
Sadly, I don’t think we can root out the present corruption in government amicably.