The New (Old) Corruption

October 13, 2008

For release Wednesday Oct. 15 and thereafter (545 words)

The economically minded among us, understanding how the Chris Dodds and the Barney Franks debased our financial system, make the argument that a state of corruption exists whenever a government grows too large to be monitored by democratic processes.

A wise observation, but the corruption that worries my lunch table is of a different sort following this month’s “rescue” of Wall Street. Economic corruption means only the loss of money; Hoosiers can earn more money. What we cannot replace is our founding philosophy.

The root, corruptio, contains the warning — something more complicated than mere stealing, a bad thing being switched for a good thing.

Examples can be found on the front page of every Indiana newspaper. One of the most costly for Hoosiers is described by Dr. Jeff Abbott of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. It is the switch that allows “education” dollars ($11,000 a year per student) to be assigned to all manner of social fantasies other than classroom teaching, including paying one’s friends regardless of ability.

Even so, a far greater corruption will be on display in coming months. It is the substitution of politically defined factions for the historic primacy of the individual.

Today, national and now state governments, Republican or Democrat, routinely sacrifice individual opportunity for group results, inventing a “right,” an “equality or even a “reform” in the process. The greed is not only for money on Wall Street, it is for power at the Statehouse and on Capitol Hill.

This switch, this corruption, can be tracked with algebraic precision using William Graham Sumner’s 1883 equation, “The Forgotten Man.”  And it is a sad fact that there are but a handful of Indiana politicians with Sumner’s century-old understanding of the true cost of our Statehouse’s grandiose attempts at social engineering.

The average Hoosier may prosper or may struggle but one thing is certain: He will be loudly portrayed by the politically ambitious as a helpless victim. And then — here comes the switcheroo — he will quietly be made to pay for his own salvation not only in the economy-wide distress of oppressive taxation but in lost opportunity and choice.

Nationally, this will play out with depressing clarity in government’s assumption of banking functions, new schemes for socialized health care and more cooking of the Social Security books. (Environmental purity and energy perfection being mass hysterics in a category of their own.)

Confucius said something 2,000 years ago that bears on our times: “When words lose their meaning, men lose their liberty.”

To make corruption possible it is necessary to confuse the very words we use to describe our freedom or, as the case may be, our slavery — “affordable” housing,  “average” homeowner, community “organizer,” tax “reform,” a mother’s “choice,” economic “development,” budget “cuts,” funding “mechanisms,” American “citizen.”

Today we are at the point where government functionaries sitting at desks — or worse, on Capitol Hill — redefined these words daily. In regard to the economy, they do so with the presumption they know more about risk and reward than do free citizens spending, saving and investing their own money.

Does anybody really think that’s going to work out OK?

T. Craig Ladwig is editor of the quarterly Indiana Policy Review. Contact him at


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