Who does the corrupting?

One of the most convenient bugbears of American politics is “the rich,” a group which is apparently perpetually engaged in corrupting well-meaning civil servants, taking money from taxpayers in the form of corporate welfare, and all around screwing the populace over by manipulating government for nefarious purposes.

Does this happen sometimes?  Well yes, of course.  Corporate welfare is just as immoral and unconstitutional as handouts to the poor — and far less sympathetic and understandable a cause.  In fact, as Ron Paul has explained,

It is not only bad economics to force working Americans, small business, and entrepreneurs to subsidize the export of the large corporations: it is also immoral. In fact, this redistribution from the poor and middle class to the wealthy is the most indefensible aspect of the welfare state, yet it is the most accepted form of welfare. [It] never ceases to amaze me how members who criticize welfare for the poor on moral and constitutional grounds see no problem with the even more objectionable programs that provide welfare for the rich.

And it goes without question that corrupt alliances between government and corporations or wealthy individuals are both wrong and illegal.  But the question must be asked:  Who does the corrupting?  Or, as Walter Williams puts it:  Who poses the greater threat?  The answer to both queries is without doubt “the government,” not “the rich”:

Bill Gates is the world’s richest person, but what kind of power does he have over you? Can he force your kid to go to a school you do not want him to attend? Can he deny you the right to braid hair in your home for a living? It turns out that a local politician, who might deny us the right to earn a living and dictates which school our kid attends, has far greater power over our lives than any rich person. Rich people can gain power over us, but to do so, they must get permission from our elected representatives at the federal, state or local levels.

Corruption can occur when government and the wealthy engage in inappropriate partnerships, true.  But that corruption can only be the government’s fault — even if the rich person or corporation initiated this specific instance of corruption.  How is that the case?  Simply because if the government agency or official who joins in the corruption were bound by the moral and legal limits of government, the corruption could not occur.  Similarly, if Congress did not pass laws which give handouts of tax dollars to businesses, then corporate welfare could not exist. 

This isn’t to say that there is no moral responsibility on the part of the rich person or business, for their participation was an equally wrong choice.  But the real instigation of corruption and the rich robbing the poor through their taxes is done by the government.  This sort of exploitation can only occur if the government makes an opportunity for it to occur, but this is a fact which is too often overlooked:

Politicians love pitting us against the rich. All by themselves, the rich have absolutely no power over us. To rip us off, they need the might of Congress to rig the economic game. It’s a slick political sleight-of-hand where politicians and their allies amongst the intellectuals, talking heads and the news media get us caught up in the politics of envy as part of their agenda for greater control over our lives.

Cross-posted here.

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