Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Government oxymoron: anti-corruption laws

Jerry Stratton, May 12, 2015

Moses and the Tablets of the Law

There’s a lot to be said for chiseling laws in stone by hand rather than typing them at high speed on a word processor.

In the latest Weekly Standard, Jay Cost asks, So, what about money in politics?, taking Republicans to task for twiddling their thumbs while Democrats rant about Citizens United. He concludes that while the Democrats have enacted self-serving reforms that ban things they don’t use and exempt the corruption they rely on, conservatives shouldn’t just make fun of their hypocrisy nor rail against their counter-productive, corruption-causing laws. To win the minds of the public, conservatives “must promote ideas to constrain influence-peddling in politics, and then pressure the ever recalcitrant GOP to enact those reforms into law.”

Now, on the one hand, he’s right. When one person is doing something that makes matters worse, and another person is arguing against doing something because it is just making matters worse, there is a strong tendency in the modern world to side with the person who is at least acting.

But from the standpoint of actually reducing corruption rather than increasing it, he’s wrong—as described in an earlier article in the same issue, where Stephen Moore argues for simplifying the tax code because layer upon layer of laws “mostly benefit the wealthy and politically well-connected.”

The only people who benefit from a complicated, barnacle-encrusted 70,000-page tax code are tax attorneys, accountants, lobbyists, IRS agents, and politicians who use the tax code as a way to buy and sell favors. The belly of the beast of corruption in American politics is the IRS tax code. — Stephen Moore (Remember the Flat Tax?)

We’ve long passed the point where adding laws can have a beneficial effect; the problem is that our laws are so complex that only the wealthy and well-connected can understand them, and because of this they get to manipulate them. Get rid of the complexity and “D.C. becomes the Sahara Desert.”

This is hardly news. The philosopher Lao Zi described the process millennia ago when he wrote that:

The more the ruler imposes laws and prohibitions on his people, the more frequently evil deeds would occur. — Lao Zi (The Silence of the Wise: The Sayings of Lao Zi)

Corruption comes when people in the government have power and others wish to buy that power. The more complex the laws, the more power people in the government have to choose how to interpret, implement, and modify them.

When someone in government is given power to choose what political speech is allowed, that person—and that government—are subject to more corruption than otherwise.

The best anti-corruption law is to repeal the laws and complexity that encourage corruption.

We can only be rid of loopholes by simplifying; complexification only adds loopholes.

Because taxes are a direct transfer of money to government, they attract corruption among those who can afford to influence the tax law. The low-hanging fruit of anti-corruption reform is to simplify the tax code. But this is low-hanging fruit only in how technically easy and effective it would be. Few politicians are going to have the fortitude and communication skills necessary to explain that the very best and easiest step we can take toward reducing corruption would be to get rid of the hidden taxes on income and purchasing that is the corporate income tax.

The curse of modern legislation is its intricacy and elaborateness, which, while providing rich remuneration to the lawyers, form a perpetual irritant and obstruction to the people. — Los Angeles Herald (January 16, 1901)

I think the curse of modern legislation is huge Congressional staffs with word processors. Having some poor schlub write everything out with a quill pen made sure that a 9,000 page Constitution wasn’t possible. — Vincent Fox

In response to Essential Revolution: The Return of the Republicans: The crime of the day is when you do it again.

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