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Issues & Insights

Warren Says She Can End Corruption, But Her Policies Will Feed It

Elizabeth Warren promises that if elected, the first thing she will do as president is push through a “sweeping” anti-corruption plan that will “take power away from the wealthy and the well-connected in Washington and put it back where it belongs — in the hands of the people.”

Where have we heard such promises before? Oh, right, from pretty much every candidate running for president. Barack Obama said in 2008 that if he were elected, he would “launch the most sweeping ethics reform in U.S. history. We will make government more open, more accountable and more responsive to the problems of the American people.”

Bill Clinton in 1992 promised to “break the stranglehold the special interests have on our elections and the lobbyists have on our government.”

Donald Trump promised to drain the swamp.

Despite Warren’s description of her plan as “far-reaching and aggressive,” it amounts to little more than a grab bag of reforms, many of which have been tried before in one way or another. She’d stop the revolving door between government service and lobbying. She’d ban lawmakers and their staff members from serving on corporate boards. She’d create a new Office of Public Integrity.

Whatever the merits of Warren’s specific anti-corruption proposals, the simple truth is that the rest of her agenda would have the exact opposite effect.

The problem with all these “anti-corruption” efforts is that they are trying to treat the symptom, not the disease.

And, in this case, the disease is Big Government. Put simply, the larger and more unencumbered the federal government is, the more it will feed the lobbyist industry and the political corruption that Warren says she wants to root out.

And, boy, does Warren want Big Government. Her agenda — Green New Deal, Medicare for All, free college, a vast increase in the regulatory state — would more than double the size of government.

The connection between the size of government and corruption isn’t just idle speculation.

Writing in the Global Anticorruption Blog, Harvard law professor Matthew Stephenson says several studies have found a clear correlation in the U.S. between the size of state governments and corruption.

“Within the U.S., when controlling for a number of other economic and demographic factors, states with larger public sectors seem to have higher corruption,” he writes.

A 1998 study, for example, shows “government size, in particular, spending by state governments, does indeed have a strong positive influence on corruption.”

A 2012 study, titled “Live Free or Bribe,” looked at the number of government officials convicted in a state for crimes related to corruption and found that the more economic freedom there was in the state, the less corruption resulted.

“Economic freedom,” the study found, “has a negative impact on corruption.”

What this means is that Warren’s plan — which would result in a drastic expansion in government and an equally sharp reduction of economic freedom — would produce a steep increase in corruption.

Likewise, Warren’s massive government expansion would only embolden the lobbyist class.

Here’s one prime example: Before the Clinton administration decided to sic government antitrust lawyers on Microsoft in 1998, the company had almost no lobbying presence in Washington whatsoever. Within four years of the White House attack, Microsoft had, as CNN described it, “one of the most dominating, multifaceted, and sophisticated influence machines around.”

Now take a look at the nearby chart. It tracks federal spending and lobbyist spending since 1998. The two lines are almost identical.

As we’ve noted in this space before, Big Business likes Big Government precisely because Big Government butts into markets. Big companies can afford to hire an army of lobbyists to shape and mold federal rules, regulations and laws to their liking, and in ways that hamper upstart competitors.

So, by vastly expanding the size and intrusiveness of the federal government, the Democratic senator from Massachusetts would put even more power into the hands of the wealthy and well-connected and unleash government corruption on an unprecedented scale.

If you want less government corruption and if you want to neuter the power and influence of lobbyists, there’s only one sure way to do it: Radically shrink the size of government.

It doesn’t matter how many platitudes politicians spew, or how many good-government plans they produce, so long as the government inserts itself so deeply into the country’s affairs, lobbying, cronyism, and corruption will be endemic.

— Written by John Merline


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6 comments

  • This is an interesting set of data tying size of government to spending by lobbyists. However, what is the alternative to regulating big businesses? Are we to expect that they will just behave if left alone?

    I find that incredibly unlikely, and if we leave big businesses alone we will only further compound issues of catastrophic climate change, economic inequality, rising healthcare costs, education accessibility, et cetera, et cetera.

    • You ask a good question. It’s not an either/or situation. There is a role for government — enforcing contracts and anti-fraud statutes, etc. — but as we’ve seen over and over again, the best check on big business isn’t an army of regulators, it’s free-market competition. GE, IBM, Sears, GM, Microsoft and many other big businesses lost out to innovators with new and better ways of doing things. Also, relying on regulators actually gives big business more control, because they can shape and mold rules to their liking. The idea that regulations ensure companies “behave” isn’t borne out by experience, either. The banking industry, for example, was the most heavily regulated industry in the country before the financial crisis.

  • What a crock, especially coming from Warren. She complains about universities and higher education being to expensive yet her salary at Harvard was over $450,000 and in addition to that she authored a text book that students had to have costing $252.00. Seems to me she is a big part of that problem. Lieawatha speak with forked tongue.

  • I fail to see how free-market competition will deliver the urgently needed changes in manufacturing that will enable the world to recover for climate crisis. Nor do I see how the free market will ever lead to more affordable healthcare or generally stop executives from padding their own pockets at the expense of the livelihood of the impoverished and middle class.

    I can concede that there is not a black and white approach. But the assertion that this article makes that bigger government and more regulation will always make for more corruption is indefensible. And it’s certainly not a fair critique of Warren’s plans – which aim to radically change the United States political system (eg. lifetime ban on certain politicians becoming lobbyists after leaving office, requiring all meetings between lobbyists/officials to become part of the public record, etc.).

  • The Soviet Union was the most tightly controlled society to ever exist on Earth with every grain of rice and every utterance tightly controlled by the state, yet, it was also the most corrupt society to ever exist.
    You can never end corruption. You can only have a society built to exist with inevitable corruption as best as possible, which is free-market capitalism.

  • How can she “stop corruption” when falsely identifying herself as a native American in her application to teach at Harvard is the definition of corruption?

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