Our political bureaucracies are grasping and vicious, and some of the larger of them are dominated by people who are, if we’re being frank, not especially bright. No society can long thrive by making its creators and innovators subservient to its pimps and thieves. But agencies with the power to tax or the power to pay themselves out of taxes have the power to command, and, human nature being what it is, it is not surprising that their executives use that power to extort for themselves extraordinary levels of compensation (occasionally through criminal means, as in the Bell case), even as they bore us all to death talking about the sacrifices they have endured on behalf of their careers in “public service.” Political power outlasts political office: Hillary Clinton is no longer secretary of state or a senator or in any of the other positions she has held as a form of tribute paid to her husband; but she very well may be a future president. She has been paid an enormous advance on a book that almost certainly will not justify that expenditure, and collects speech honoraria that are, if not quite up at her husband’s stratospheric levels, nonetheless substantial. What is she being paid for? It is hard to see how economic value, strictly understood, explains that. No doubt part of the value is celebrity: When the American Bankruptcy Institute advertises the speakers at its annual conference as your obedient correspondent and Jay Leno, one of those names is putting many more butts in chairs than the other. But celebrity probably does not explain it all, either. Political power is worth investing in, and worth renting when it is needed.
It is baffling that my progressive friends lament the influence of so-called big money on government while at the same time proposing to expand the very scope and scale of that government that makes influencing it such a good investment. Where government means constables, soldiers, judges, and precious little else, it is not much worth capturing. Where government means somebody whose permission must be sought before you can even begin to earn a living, when it determines the prices of products, the terms of competition, and the interest rates on your competitors’ financing, then it is worth capturing. That much is obvious. Progressives refuse to see the inherent corruption in the new ruling class — and, make no mistake, we now have a ruling class — because it is largely made up of them, their colleagues, and people who are socially and culturally like them and their colleagues. Getting a couple hundred grand a year to teach one class doesn’t look so crazy if you think you might be the guy who gets the check next time around. You can be an anti-elite crusader on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised from your million-dollar mansion, even if you never find yourself so much as downwind from a poor person, without fearing charges of hypocrisy: Ask Senator Warren. Of course Chelsea Clinton does not have the sense or the good taste to be embarrassed when talking about her blasé attitude toward money: Money is invisible to her for the same reason that water is invisible to a fish — she’d notice it if it weren’t there, and flap like a desperate landed mackerel until she’d secured her next big payday.
Major General Smedley Butler famously declared that “war is a racket,” and there is some compelling evidence for that proposition. But when you need an army, you need an army. Nobody needs a Tennessee Valley Authority or a taxi cartel — not at any price, really, but certainly not at this price. It is time to start calling this what it is and treating it as what it is: corruption.
— Kevin D. Williamson is roving correspondent for National Review.