Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What is Corruption?

We let our public people and ourselves off easy. If a congressman hasn’t violated a statute in a provable way, we won’t call him corrupt. For several centuries, however, political corruption wasn’t understood as a crime, though it often enough resulted in bribery and other specific crimes. Corruption was simply the commandeering of public institutions by private interests. By that definition, of course, our entire political system is deeply corrupt. Indeed, under the effective, as opposed to the paper constitution of the nation, the corporations are the fourth branch of the Federal government; and any attempt to limit their power and income amounts to an insurrection. The health care companies and arms manufacturers have a prerogative right to their exorbitant profits, which is why their supporters, who have internalized the American religion of corruption, are sincerely scandalized by suggestions that the public good should sometimes impinge on private interests. Thus in the current debate about health care, we hear that a public option is impermissible because it would provide better services at lower cost than private insurance firms and thus lower their returns to capital or even drive them out of business.