Last year, while having coffee with a friend from a former Soviet-bloc country, the conversation turned from concerns about Putin’s aggression in her region to more general problems with public corruption.
At first, I nodded my head in agreement: Yes, back dealing by government officials certainly is a problem that infects just about every government on the planet. Yet I quickly realized that she was talking about corruption on a scale that was, thankfully, foreign to me. This wasn’t just powerful people trading government contracts for campaign contributions. Corruption was rooted into the fabric of her society: no one hesitated or thought it wrong to offer the policeman a bribe when receiving a ticket, nor was there any awkwardness in his accepting the bribe. Someone who didn’t participate in this process wouldn’t be look at as noble, she explained, but as a fool.
This meant that those who were really wealthy in her country were assumed to be not the most skilled, hard-working or talented, but politically-adept and connected. They were more feared than admired.
This isn’t how it is in America, I explained. Sure, we have our share of government corruption, but people are outraged by it. And when Americans read about successfully businesses, we assume that merit was the driving cause for that success: They were smarter, faster, more efficient, innovative… We know luck, money, family or political connection may play a role, of course, but our first presumption is that success is earned.
I hope that what I said was true. It always has been for me at least, though I can see the foundation of that assumption crumbling as I age. I was once shocked to learn that big business doesn’t just want a level playing field and for government to get out of the way, but rather they are often standing arm-in-arm with big government to use regulation and tax policy to crush their small competitors. I’ve read too many stories of government grants being used to reward donors to think that that is just an exception, rather than a regular feature of metastasizing government.
Yet we have to fight against allowing the terrible, lazy, cynicism to take root. We can’t allow that to become business as usual. The press has a big role to play in this. It has to remain news when government power is abused, whether that’s to hand dollars to political cronies or punish enemies through the IRS.
Congress should play a role too. As IWF’s Hadley Heath recently wrote, Oregon’s governor recently resigned because he was using government money to reward his friends and family. Among the pots of money that he appears to have misused is funding that was supposed to support Oregon’s ObamaCare exchange. What exactly happened with this money? Taxpayers deserve to know.
In Oregon, it appears that many of those guilty of corruption and gross mismanagement of taxpayer resources are being punished, but there are similar stories around the country of millions of dollars that were supposed to be used for health care implementation are now unaccounted for.
That’s an outrage. Or at least it should be. Hardworking American taxpayers deserve to know what happens to the money they send to Washington. Our elected representatives in Congress – who appropriate all that money after all – should do their duty and investigate what happened to the missing ObamaCare dollars. They shouldn’t shrug off this waste and corruptions as no big deal, because the expectation that the law will be followed and used fairly is the foundation of a functioning government and economy. We won’t fully understand how important this is until we allow it to disappear and have to live in the aftermath.