So Much Corruption; So Few Free Presses

A free press is our only protection against corruption.

As we've noted earlier, there are only two questions about government - who says? and who pays?   Our government hires armies of civil "servants" to tell us what to do and they make us pay taxes to pay the salaries of all those bureaucrats who write rules so the control freaks can tell us what to do.

We've also pointed out that our elected representatives love to give our money to their friends in return for campaign contributions to help them get re-elected.  This is not because our politicians are any more venal, any more greedy, or any more selfish than politicians of the past, it's just that as government revenues have risen with the economy, there's more money lying around for them to steal.  As Mr. Jarvis, who helped lead the movement to roll back real estate taxes in California put it, "The only way to cut government spending is not to let them have the money in the first place."

There are many things for which Americans should give thanks, but one of the major reasons to be thankful is that we have a more or less free press and a tradition of viewing government with alarm.  We gripe about bias in the mainstream media because freedom of the press is only meaningful if you happen to own a press, but enough people have presses to keep politicians on their toes.

For all we gripe about corruption and waste in America, our levels of government waste and theft are lower than in other countries.  As reported in Mysteries of Corruption on page 72 of the Winter 2006 edition of the Wilson Quarterly,

Bribery, embezzlement, and corruption cost the world $1 trillion per year, according to one estimate. ... Grotesque examples of corruption are legion.  In Angola, where most people live on less than $1 per day, nearly $1 billion vanished from state oil coffers in 2001 -- three times the amount of humanitarian aid the country received from abroad.

... research suggests that the most corrupt countries are those that also restrict economic activity and the news media.  Selective deregulation of the economy, depriving bureaucrats and politicians of the leverage to exact payoffs, is one promising avenue of reform.  Grass-roots monitoring is another.   Between 1991 and 1995, local officials in Uganda siphoned off all but 13% of the grant money primary schools were supposed to receive from the central government.  When Uganda's government began publicizing the monthly transfer payments to the schools in newspapers, parents and school staff were able to act.  In 2001, the schools got 80% of the money earmarked for them.

As we've noted, one reason 3rd world governments are reluctant to buy laptops for kids is that it would make it easier for kids to spread the word about their favorite scams.  Most tyrants understand what Thomas Jefferson said about publicity:

The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure.

--Thomas Jefferson to Lafayette, 1823

The Oct 30 Wall Street Journal had a front-page article "How Lawmaker Rebuilt Hometown on Earmarks" which explains how Rep. Murtha wasted hundreds of millions of dollars on unnecessary projects in his home district.

We may wince at the waste of our taxpayer's dollars, but at least the WSJ was able to report it.  Think how much Mr. Murtha and Peolsi's other Democrats would have stolen if the media weren't watching!

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Society.
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