Prevailing wisdom. Quite a concept, that. Sort of takes the wind out of every sail that would seek to find another course. Naturally a whole lot of prevailing wisdom is pretty sound, like the concept of right and wrong, the fact that the sky is blue and that gravity anchors us to the ground. Hard to argue with those, and pretty foolish too. But there are a whole bunch of other bits of accepted wisdom that aren’t so easily swallowed, and when something makes you choke, maybe you need to ask why. Is it just you, or are there others who doubt that corruption is inevitable? After all, most people you run across are not corrupt, so why is it accepted that a certain amount of corruption in public and private institutions is to be accepted and tacitly tolerated?

Indeed, when you think of personal corruption, do not politicians spring to mind? In America, who hasn’t railed against our Congress, our state assemblies and our local governments as being riddled with corrupt and power mad individuals? And when you look at other nations, like Mexico or any Middle Eastern nation, you realize that corruption in official circles is a way of life, as predictable an inevitable as the sunrise. And then you meet individual Mexicans and Middle Easterners and find them to be just fine, with no built-in corruption gene, and you start asking questions. Even in the so-called Communist nations where the theory is that everybody owns everything equally, you find corrupt leaders enriching themselves at the expense of the many, and you wonder why that is for these ideological Puritans.

Maybe you even meet an assemblyman from your home state and find out that he’s an honest person too, but someone forced to operate in a system long infested with back room deals and blatant self-interest. Maybe you wonder exactly how inevitable human corruption is, and whether the institutions we have set up have been flawed from the beginning, and that the conditions for temptation and corruption are inherent in these institutions. You notice that many of the various state assemblies have a very low pay scale for the representatives, and even the United States Congress and Senate are vastly underpaid positions for the relative demands and great responsibilities that go along with these important jobs.

Then you notice that these are the same men and women through whose hands flow the trillions and trillions of dollars that make up the public budgets of this large country, and the temptation comes into closer focus. A representative of any district not within commuting distance of the capitol by definition must maintain two homes and a minimum of two offices. Frequent travel between their home district and their place of work is not free, but necessary. Simply doing the math on what they earn and what they need to spend to do their jobs properly reveals quite a gap in dollars earned and dollars spent, a gap that must be filled somehow, and few of our elected representatives are independently wealthy.

So you figure that the mathematics of an inadequate salary combined with the proximity to the practically limitless resources of our public treasuries produces some skewed sort of algebra that encourages larceny. Now factor in wealthy business lobbies who ardently court these representatives with gifts, vacation trips, campaign donations and personal services in return for favorable legislation and The Corruption Equation begins to emerge a little more clearly. The system that was designed to give our citizens an independent voice in our government is flawed by money, in some cases too little and some far too much.

And we tolerate this state of affairs as the cost of doing the public business. Underpaid legislators with the same private needs as any other citizen, to earn a living to provide their families with food, shelter and an education, are practically forced to supplement their meager public salaries one way or another. And even if the way they supplement their income is completely legal, their power to affect legislatively whatever business they have chosen makes their outside incomes suspect. If a man or a woman holding public office gets involved in real estate, for example, they can potentially guarantee their success in that business by introducing and passing favorable zoning laws or tax breaks for their personal projects.

Many of us recall those toilet seats the Air Force bought for $500 apiece many years ago and can’t help but wonder how many public officials owned stock in that toilet seat company. Then there were the $200 hammers sold to the Pentagon, presumably to knock sense into one another’s thick skulls. Through such contradictions and tainted opportunities, many inherently corrupt people are now drawn to public service, seeking not an opportunity to serve and make a contribution to society, but a chance to get rich quick by any means at their disposal and serve only themselves.

Such men and women are naturals in this arena, and corrupting the process of government is one golden opportunity after another for some of these very skilled individuals. These are the people whose rise to prominence fuels the prevailing wisdom that corruption in inevitable. Every so often a few especially greedy and thuggish public servants are arrested and prosecuted and we tell ourselves that we are straightening things out, a foolish notion that ignores the legions of more subtle and deeply entrenched thieves on our public payrolls.

There is a reason that many men and women in public service emerge from the experience as wealthy individuals. The inside knowledge alone that is available to legislators represents a huge advantage in investment strategy, and the ability to pass laws to protect your personal investments is an asset none of their constituents enjoy. And that’s just the passive route to personal enrichment at the public expense. Imagine the opportunities for hard working thieves bent on amassing a fortune they could never have earned legitimately?

The Corruption Equation grows exponentially when publishers line up to hand a lot of these people millions of dollars to have someone else write a book about their “experiences” in public life, especially the disgraced, the arrested or otherwise exposed corrupt hacks who have spent a great deal of their working lives screwing up our political system. So even if you are so greedy and corrupt that you get caught and sent to jail for a couple of relaxing years in some Federal Minimum Security prison, you can still come away with a handsome profit.

How do we solve the Corruption Equation? Same way it was created, money. Pay our public representatives an excellent salary and demand excellent performance. Insist on transparency when it comes to their own personal financial dealings. If they wish that personal information to remain private, then fine, let them remain private citizens. No one is forced to run for office. To represent your fellow citizens in Congress, in any executive branch or state assembly is a unique privilege reserved for those who desire to make their nation a better place. There is a price to be paid for that privilege, and that is being a public figure and publishing your financial dealings.

Create an independent public agency at every level of state, local and federal government to monitor our public servants and the work that they do, an agency with no power at all to affect legislation, only to report to their employers, we the people, on the performance of our leaders. Those found wanting will be shown the door, to a prison cell if need be. And finally, take all the lobbyists out and shoot them down like dogs. No sense being completely reasonable here in what has become a completely unreasonable situation. The Corruption Equation just doesn’t add up.

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