The real solution to corruption

Politicians are in the habit of believing that there is a legislative solution to every problem. For example, if some undesirable behaviour is prevalent, make it illegal, and no-one will do it right? Wrong, obviously. When something is already illegal and people do it anyway, pass a new law to make it even more illegal. Yeah, right. That always works.

And so it is with allegations of legislative corruption. What is needed is new laws to stop people offering bribes to legislators. Except that offering bribes to legislators is already illegal, and people do it anyway. The sad thing is, people do it because it works. Bribery is not the root cause of the problem. The problem is that some politicians are will to cast votes for things they don't believe in, in exchange for cash, or some other support.

This proves very economic for business. The government doles out huge wodges of cash. Sometimes directly in the form of subsidies and public procurement. Sometimes it is indirectly, by imposing tarriffs to 'protect' uncompetitive industries.

Congress spends vast sums of money, out of all proportion to the money that individual legislators are ever likely to see. A bribe that is a fraction of one percent of the money Congress can give to a company is still a huge quantity of money to the individual member of Congress.

The solution is to starve the beast itself. Congress should abandon earmarks that deliver money to specific busineses. It should abandon corporate welfare payments. Tax breaks specific to certain industries or certain business practices - such as export subsidies - should be scrapped. Let businesses make their own commercial judgement, and levy a simple, lower tax that is neutral as to commercial decisions.

Can real action be taken to achieve this? The first step would be for the Republican Conference to elect John Shadegg as its Leader. This would be a huge and very unexpected step. But it would also be a major step towards renewal. What is needed is a bit of Trotskyism. To prevent the Republican Congress becoming as corrupt as the Democrats were prior to 1994 - and, admittedly, they have a long way to go before they will be THAT bad - the Conference needs to engage in some permanent revolution.

Shadegg is a former Chair of the Republican Study Committee, which has already laid out a clear and radical - if not revolutionary - agenda to end corruption. The approach is very simple. Congress is a huge department store in which a wide range of goodies are for sale. You cannot address that problem by making it illegal - or rather making it more illegal - for customers to enter the store and buy things. It is time to shut the store down and pack away all the goodies.

The problem is not that business will lobby and bribe its way to securing favours. The problem is that Congress has any favours to sell.

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