Are Government Bureaucrats Corrupt and Dishonest?

Daniel J. Mitchell
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Posted: Jan 26, 2014 12:01 AM

I don’t like government bureaucrats.

Actually, let me re-phrase that statement. I know lots of people who work for different agencies in Washington and most of them seem like decent people.

So maybe what I really want to say is that I’m not a big fan of government bureaucracies and the results they generate. Why?

Because a bloated government means overpaid bureaucrats, both at the federal level and state level (and in other nations as well).

Because inefficient bureaucracies enable loafing and bad work habits.

Because being part of the government workforce even encourages laziness!

And it may even be the case that government bureaucracies attract dishonest people. A story in the L.A. Times reveals that there’s a correlation between cheating and a desire to work for the government.

Here are some excerpts.

College students who cheated on a simple task were more likely to want government jobs, researchers from Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania found in a study of hundreds of students in Bangalore, India. Their results, recently released as a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research, suggest that one of the contributing forces behind government corruption could be who gets into government work in the first place. …Researchers ran a series of experiments with more than 600 students finishing up college in India. In one task, students had to privately roll a die and report what number they got. The higher the number, the more they would get paid. Each student rolled the die 42 times. …Cheating seemed to be rampant: More than a third of students had scores that fell in the top 1% of the predicted distribution, researchers found. Students who apparently cheated were 6.3% more likely to say they wanted to work in government, the researchers found.

I’m not surprised. Just as the wrong type of people often are attracted to politics, we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that less-than-admirable folks sometimes are attracted to jobs in the bureaucracy.

But I don’t want to draw too many conclusions from this research.

The study looked at people in India and that nation’s government is infamous for rampant corruption.

However, if you look at how America scores in that regard (corruption measures are included in both Economic Freedom of the World and the Index of Economic Freedom), the problem is much less severe.

So even though I’m willing to believe that bureaucrats in America are more prone to bad habits than their private-sector counterparts, I don’t think many of them decide to get government jobs in the expectation that they can extract bribes.

Indeed, I would guess that the average American bureaucrat is far more honest than the average American politician.

That’s damning with faint praise, I realize, but it underscores an important point that the real problem is big government. That’s what enables massive corruption in Washington.

P.S. Switching gears, I’ve written a couple of times about the intrusive and destructive Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. Well, we have some good news on that front. The Republican National Committee has endorsed the law’s repeal. I don’t want to pretend that’s a momentous development and I even told Reuters that the GOP may only be taking this step for narrow political reasons.

Daniel Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, said: “It’s hard to imagine an issue this obscure playing a visible role in elections … It is making overseas Americans far more sympathetic to (Republicans) and could have an impact on fundraising.”

That being said, I’m more than happy when politicians happen to do the right thing simply because it’s in their self interest. And if we can eventually undo FATCA and enable more tax competition, that’s good news for America and the rest of the world.

P.P.S. And here’s another positive update on a topic we’ve examined before. Governor Rick Perry of Texas has joined a growing list of people who are having second thoughts about the War on Drugs. Here’s an excerpt from a report in the Washington Post.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) on Thursday voiced support for softening penalties for marijuana use, and touted his work moving in the direction of decriminalization. “After 40 years of the war on drugs, I can’t change what happened in the past. What I can do as the governor of the second largest state in the nation is to implement policies that start us toward a decriminalization and keeps people from going to prison and destroying their lives, and that’s what we’ve done over the last decade,” Perry said, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

He joins a growing list of people – such as John Stossel, Gary Johnson, John McCain, Mona Charen, Pat Robertson, Cory Booker, and Richard Bransonwho are recognizing that it’s foolish to give government massive amounts of power and money simply to stop people from doing dumb things to themselves.

But maybe you disagree with all those people and would rather be on the same side as Hillary Clinton.

And make life easier for the folks in this cartoon.

P.P.P.S. I’ve written before about how leftists always criticize so-called tax havens, even though rich statists are among the biggest beneficiaries of these low-tax jurisdictions.

President Obama, for instance, has been so critical of tax havens that he’s been caught making utterly dishonest statements on the topic.

But I guess the President’s opposition to tax competition is less important than his desire to prop up Obamacare. Look at some of what’s been reported by Bloomberg.

…the job of taking over construction of HealthCare.gov, which failed miserably when it debuted in October, is going to Accenture Plc, which switched its place of incorporation in 2009 to Ireland from Bermuda. …Accenture has endured so much criticism over the years for its use of tax havens that it even has a disclosure in its annual report warning investors to expect as much. …Accenture’s roots date back to a once-iconic American business, which helps explain why it’s gotten a lot of heat for incorporating in tax havens since spinning off.

By the way, it makes sense for Accenture to be domiciled in Bermuda rather than the United States.

P.P.P.P.S. On a personal note, I’m down in Florida for my first softball tournament of the year and I’m happy to report that I managed to put one over the fence.

Tampa HRHitting home runs has become a distressingly infrequent event as I’ve gotten older (I’m playing in a tourney for the 55-and-up crowd), and I like to memorialize it when it happens just in case it’s the last time.

So forgive me if I engage in Walter Mitty-style fantasizing. Maybe, just maybe, the Yankees will call with a contract offer.

Wait, who am I kidding?!?

That’s even less likely than Obamacare succeeding. Or politicians surrendering some of their power by enacting a flat tax.

I’m doomed to be a policy wonk for the rest of my life.