Simple corruption in politics we understand, clearly. The paradigmatic corrupt act? Bribery.

But it is obvious that there is more than one form of corruption. I’ve been touching on this in my latest LocoFoco videos, and, on-again, off-again, in this and other forums.

Paul Jacob deals with this, too, in his most recent bout of Common Sense, titled “When in Rome”:

Americans concerned with government corruption really should study Italy.


“You know Italians,” septuagenarian Elio Ciampanella was quoted in the New York Times last week. “If there is a law, they will try to find ways to go around it!”

But it is not just ordinary citizens — the people — who are evading bad laws. It is government workers who won’t do their jobs, and who engage in a wide range of corrupt deals and shady incompetence.

I know, this seems awfully unfair to the Italians. What I’ve said is the case with governments around the world. But not equally. (Scandinavian countries have a long history of government worker probity, if not ultra-competence.) And Italians do have a well-earned reputation for government corruption.

Arguably, it’s the form freedom takes in Italy.

Be that true or not, Mr. Ciampanella’s story, as related in the Times, is a fascinating one. He asked for a government-subsidized apartment, and had to wait ten years to get one . . . only to discover the problem wasn’t a lack of apartments, but a surfeit.

Yes, the government owned too many apartments to keep track of!

And so they didn’t.

And gave special deals to “special people.”

In other words: incompetence and corruption as a way of life.

Market institutions that behave so chaotically and with so little attention to efficiency go out of business. But government? That’s “necessary,” so: too big to fail. And so, commonly excused.

No wonder, then, that the common-sense approach to government is to limit it.

This final idea, the idea of limiting corruption by limiting its very opportunity — by circumscribing the scope of government itself — is one that I have been trying to formulate well in the past few years. It seems foreign to my contemporaries, however. The whole mindset of statism, at least in this instantiation in the modern progressive, resists the idea, as if it were anti-matter. The commonsense notion seems almost unmeaning to progressives.

What I learn from Paul Jacob, however, is that incompetence and corruption might be linked.

And that is worth thinking about.

The image is shamelessly nabbed from This is Common Sense.