Thursday, February 19, 2009

Corruption & Accountability

     We usually think of corruption as personal favors that subvert the proper procedures. But this kind of subversion is so common I can't help wondering if the personal relationship network is really the proper way to build human communities.
     Corruption of this kind is seen as subverting the ideal operation of the good classical and transparent economy. But nowadays the psychological economists point out that people just don't work that way anyway. Plus which, most students admit having cheated in school.
     People cheat when they think the end justifies the means. But the means are the ends in the making. If I cheat on papers and exams, what will I do when I get the job I cheated to achieve? I am always at risk of being less skilled and knowledgeable than others believe (if they are foolish enough to take my certificates at face value). I will never feel secure in my position as I would if I had just done my own work and learned the material, and achieved my own accomplishments without cheating or even without the blandishments of spin.
     A subtler example is the cop who portrays certain youth as scary gang members which makes his services seem more necessary. This is the protection racket. Such self-serving (and often unconscious) cops also fail to warn the public about the true underlying causes of the behavior labeled as criminal and dangerous, nor that the prescription of punishment is worse than the disease. Take the kid who hacked into his school's computer to raise his GPA by 1.9; he's now facing a possible 38-year sentence while Bush and Cheney are still at large. How can we trust a government that condones this?
     But who is accountable? And how would we recognize actual accountability if we saw it? What would it look like? Currently, I am using the ex-boyfriend standard. People who dodge the tough questions aren't being accountable. If an ex-boyfriend has the backbone to answer tough questions when he's not getting laid, he's worth keeping as a friend.
     So was Obama holding himself accountable when he took the rap for nominating Daschle? Maybe, but not in a useful way. There are way too many other tough questions he hasn't addressed (to my knowledge), like why the CIA really needs extraordinary rendition? Or why we need to continue to occupy Afghanistan and when will we stop? Or why we can't have a moratorium on evictions? Or why we can't just make the banks put homeless people in empty foreclosures, if they want more bailout money?
     I think Obama should hold Congress accountable. I believe the chief executive's function is to facilitate the will of Congress. Given current polarized partisan politics and absence of moderation, successful facilitation means insisting that both Democrats and Republicans take up the tough questions that, if addressed honestly and truthfully, will allow us to proceed in a sensible way. There are positive aspects to conservatism and to liberalism, even if they have been co-opted by ideologues. But we will never find them, let alone integrate them, while we accept weaseling, spinning, or changing the subject instead of insisting on honest and responsive answers.

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