Conflicts of Interest
I’m writing this on the day of Trump’s inauguration. Across the board, Inauguration Day is thought of as a great day for our nation, for our democracy. A pageant. Play “Hail to the Chief.” I’m looking forward to the YouTube of Erin Boehme singing “My Way” for the Trumps’ dance as an alternative to the disgusting worship of state and executive power signified by all the expensive hoopla. Long forgotten is the fact that our government was founded to secure the rights endowed by our Creator, not granted by our government.
Leading up to this day, the papers, air waves, and internet are crammed with commentary about conflicts of interest with the new administration as if it is a new thing. I’ve got to admit, for example if the band-aids of ethics rules were to be enforced, Senator Tom Price wouldn’t just be out of consideration for Secretary of Health and Human Services, he’d be breaking rocks. We lack the prison space necessary for a broader crack-down.
The focus on one NPR program by former officials of the Bush and Obama administrations was about Trump putting all his assets into a blind trust, as if that would eliminate any influence on decisions coming from the White House. Wait a second. Wouldn’t he get the assets back after he leaves office? If he knows one asset in the trust is a hotel in Qatar, blind trust or not, he’d consider Qatar our indispensable ally. George Washington had something to say about that in his farewell address.
As long as our government has agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services, the bait is too attractive to ever avoid conflicts of interest.
What is so bad about a conflict of interest anyway? If we are so darned concerned, we need to assess why. It isn’t just hatred for naughty people as the predominant theme in the media dictates. Tom Price’s legislation favoring one direction in health care over another drives up costs for you and me. But overlooked is our involvement in the Middle East for example, that subsidizes petroleum energy. This has stifled interest in alternative sources of petroleum or types of energy, for decades. The costs of this example and other unseen disruptions of our economy have had real impact on our incomes and lifestyles.
I looked up the executive branch positions Trump has to fill to see what other conflicts of interest might pop up and came to realize that the federal government is simply one big conflict of interest. There are almost 700 positions left to fill besides the nominees we know already, which number 30. Each of these positions requires Senate approval. It gets to looking pretty complicated. And an ethics commission delegated to ferret out conflicts of interest would have to be exponentially larger than the number of bureaucrats it oversees. Bureaucrats upon bureaucrats equals negative productivity.
This issue is addressed in the Constitution as it attempts to limit the role of government, but as Senator Charles Grassley told me, the courts have evolved its meaning and left us defenseless.
Once again we are reminded why we were intended to be a union of individual states. I remember when we first moved out to the farm. One summer a very large farmer discovered he had forgotten to plant a field. If we are to prevent conflicts of interest in government, the reward needs to be eliminated because there can never be enough enforcement for such a huge apparatus.
We don’t need ambassadors or labor secretaries; and one department of defense would do. Those 690 appointments could be left unfilled and laws against theft and fraud would do the job nicely if Trump’s claimed 20% of federal layoffs were quadrupled. It isn’t the government’s money; it’s ours.