January 31, 2014

Is Government Inherently Corrupt?

Conservatives believe government is inherently corrupt. They believe government cannot be trusted to do anything really important except for national security, oh yeah, and regulate women’s bodies. Oh, and also stifle access to the voting booth. And I guess on those two issues, conservatives actually are right, government is corrupt. Well, more specifically, certain people in government do corrupt things, like play master of the uterus.

Government is not corrupt. Government is not evil. Government cannot take on a human character trait, because government isn’t a tangible existence, it doesn’t have a personality, it’s not a sentient being. Government is words, sentences, clauses, constructed into laws. People are corrupt, government is not. And to my liberal friends, the same holds true for corporations. But then right back to my conservative friends, that also means corporations ARE NOT people.

So the only thing “inherent” is that you can find human beings in all walks of life (public and private) who are corrupt. So I look at institutions (public or private) like this: What is their intended purpose and how does that relate to the human decisions within those institutions?

Corporations exist to make money, period. People might have lofty ideals about why they start a business, but for a business to stay a business, it must make money. And that’s fine, but let’s recognize that this purpose does not service ideals like freedom and liberty. So for example, when we privatize a once public service, we change the paradigm from public good, to private good (to make money to appease those shareholders). It changes decision-making priorities when a service goes from public to private.

Government exists for the good of the people. Well, to be clear, I’m talking about the United States (and pretty much any modern democracy). And just because the power of government can be abused, it does not change its intended purpose. But it is up to us to hold people accountable to that end.

As a liberal, do I automatically trust my government? See, there I go treating government like it’s a person! So that really was the wrong question, but let me answer it like this: No, I do not automatically trust people working within government, particularly in elected office. But I do have a lot more faith in public sector workers who are not pandering to win the next election. People who love to complain about corrupt politicians in Washington, really need to start making that distinction.

And when someone in government abuses their power, they should face consequences, whether that be legal, electoral, or loss of employment. But remember this, there is no public accountability when it comes to the decisions in a board room. And so decisions related to services for the public good (education, universal access to health care, parks, major infrastructure like roads, bridges), should never be relegated to a board room, they should never be privatized, they should not be subjected to a quarterly profit report.

I do not automatically demonize business or government, because these institutions cannot own human character traits. But I will call-out people working within these institutions based their decision-making within the context of institutional objective. Or in other words, I will judge people, not institutions like government, based on the actions people take with the power they wield, and I will do so with institutional purpose in mind.

Is government corrupt

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