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Corruption in Government

A retiring hedge-fund manager named Andrew Lahde wrote an unusual epitaph for his fund that included some comments about the failures of Government:

On the issue of the U.S. Government, I would like to make a modest proposal. First, I point out the obvious flaws, whereby legislation was repeatedly brought forth to Congress over the past eight years, which would have reigned in the predatory lending practices of now mostly defunct institutions. These institutions regularly filled the coffers of both parties in return for voting down all of this legislation designed to protect the common citizen. This is an outrage, yet no one seems to know or care about it. Since Thomas Jefferson and Adam Smith passed, I would argue that there has been a dearth of worthy philosophers in this country, at least ones focused on improving government. Capitalism worked for two hundred years, but times change, and systems become corrupt. George Soros, a man of staggering wealth, has stated that he would like to be remembered as a philosopher. My suggestion is that this great man start and sponsor a forum for great minds to come together to create a new system of government that truly represents the common man's interest, while at the same time creating rewards great enough to attract the best and brightest minds to serve in government roles without having to rely on corruption to further their interests or lifestyles. This forum could be similar to the one used to create the operating system, Linux, which competes with Microsoft's near monopoly. I believe there is an answer, but for now the system is clearly broken.

I don't agree that corruption is as bad as he thinks it is, but on the other hand I am equally disgusted that it's not a lot better. Most of us probably have the same feelings: we're confused and upset. We want our elected representatives to act with the highest principles and integrity, but we understand that the world is a complicated place and that compromise is the only way that anything can ever get done. We appreciate the values of capitalism and we think that a pure socialist state would ultimately mean less for everyone. On the other hand, we think excesses of wealth at the expense of others is disgusting. We are very ambivalent - "socialism" is a dirty word, but so is "unfettered capitalism". We want a balance, but never seem to get it right.

I don't even agree that the failure to correct the mortgage crisis is a good example of corruption. It has the right elements: large amounts of money, inattention.. but I think that it was just wishful thinking and carelessness, perhaps made even more careless by distractions such as terrorism and the Iraq war.

And by the way: Jefferson, Hamilton and the rest weren't any better. It's easy to pretend that the politicians of the past were better moral stanchions, but they were not. They had their petty moral failures, unholy alliances and self-serving methods just as today's crop does.

Obviously we do get corruption and have always had it, but the system does work. We have watchdogs for government corruption and the worst of it does get fixed. I wish our standards were higher: I'm incensed that Sarah Palin would use the powers of her office in pursuing a personal grudge but I'm more incensed that most people react to that with a shoulder shrug and a comment along the lines of "they all do it". Yes, I understand that when compared to other offenses, Palin's vendetta was small potatoes and that the shoulder shruggers are probably correct to assume that many of our electees would bend their morals just as readily. But should we pass it off so easily?

Probably so. I won't be voting for MCain-Palin, but if I were, I'd have to let my misgivings about her morals slide. After all, what choice would I have? We get to choose from column A or column B and we have to choose someone. We look at the warts and imperfections, squeeze our eyes shut, pinch our noses and hope for the best.

But I wish it were different. I wish that we had higher moral standards. Unrealistic, yes. I know that. But I can't help wishing.

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