Is A Little Corruption a Bad Thing?

I have an unfortunate attraction to multiple news sources. The TV plays a news channel in the background while I view multiple news sources on the web. I even read several newspapers in physical form.

During this election season – US Congressional, Toronto municipal, etc – I here several repeated themes. The one I want to consider today is corruption. It is a repeating theme from all across the political spectrum. (In another entry, I will discuss the idea of right vs left. These days, the traditional left-right nomenclature does not really work. But that is another day.)

The right yells about left wing corruption. As an example, Rob Ford screams about spending "scandals" approved by lefty councilors. The left yells about tax and regulation cuts for corporations owned by the richest amongst us. Oddly, most of the examples shown are factual, though whether they are corruption is a matter of interpretation.

As I listen to the continual diatribes about corruption, my recurring response is, "Yes. Of course. Why is this a surprise?"

I coined a phrase a few years back – Born Again Virgins. Somewhere in my lifetime, and I cannot exactly place it, people started to expect that politicians served for purely altruistic reasons, for the benefit of the people. It always struck me as an odd thought, that someone would spend incredible amounts of money and put themselves out for constant criticism without wanting a benefit from the exercise. It seems counter intuitive. Historically, elected public service has been a route to some level of power and money.

I believe that much of the idea of the altruistic politician has grown in tandem with the increasing power of the media (from networks to blogs). We are much closer to our politicians than ever before. Before the 24/7 news cycle, our politicians could pretend they were the same as their constituents when campaigning while wheeling and dealing in private at work.

I also consider that much of the most important achievements were structured before the altruistic concept, while our politicians were focused on buying our votes. Universal health care, highways, bridges and most major programs are relics of the more corrupt past.

In trying to be more transparent, we have added layers of process to almost all tasks in public achievement. To assure that a politico cannot steer business to a buddy, we have added layers of work and cost, transitioning more work and power to the civil service. A small bonus to politicos, this makes the civil service an excellent target. They get to be blamed for doing what they are instructed to do.

I wonder if our cry for altruism and transparency is in our own best interests. Does it allow our best to choose public service? Or does it merely bring those who are bland enough to pass the election gate while bringing little or nothing to their constituents.

I wonder if we would be better served by the politics of the 1940's and 1950's?