Corruption Is the Essence of the State

Almost every anti-corruption movement in Latin America has given birth to even more corrupt governments. (La Opinión)
Nearly every anti-corruption movement in Latin America has given rise to even more corrupt governments. (La Opinión)

EspañolBy Olmedo Miró

The law should restrain our human appetites, but, as Fréderic Bastiat warned, it has become a mere expression of those appetites, a hidden power wielded by unelected bureaucrats interested only in protecting their own interests.

The nefarious consequences of this perversion go beyond the legal chaos we see every day.

Justice is no longer the proper means by which to protect victims from their aggressors. Rather, justice is being used as a shield to protect powerful bureaucracies as they devour their own children with demagogy and vengeance. Justice is no longer blind, and its scales are no longer balanced. They have tilted in favor of state power and against the individual.

We fail to perceive how, in truth, corruption flourishes when laws and government bureaucracies try to do what individuals can do perfectly well through voluntary exchanges. Corruption is inherent to omnipotent government.

The masses want justice, or at least that is their claim. It was the case when they took to the Buenos Aires streets to demand the overthrow of Argentinean President Fernando de la Rúa, whose government had bribed senators. Current actions against Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina are very similar. In the meantime, former presidents, such as Alberto Fujimori in Peru and Francisco Flores in El Salvador, have gone to prison.

But have we gotten better governments as a result?

Not in Argentina. In fact, the situation is far worse; corruption levels are among the worst on the planet, surpassing by far the bribery attempts in the Senate that brought De la Rúa’s downfall. Nevertheless, voters keep electing corrupt politicians, and this will be the case as long as those who govern base their power on handouts, subsidies, and other “gifts” financed by the taxpayer.

As time passes, one falls under the impression that small attempts to bring about justice in our continent are actually just a means to keep political adversaries in check. Actions against corrupt officials seem to amount to vendettas against those who “betrayed” the system, or against those who must become scapegoats when things go wrong.

When the law becomes an expression of our impulses to pillage our fellow citizens, it ceases to be an instrument of justice and becomes an instrument of aggression. Any election becomes, in H.L. Mencken’s words, “a sort of advanced auction sale of stolen goods.”

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When political parties plan to share the loot among themselves once in power, they become mere criminal organizations from the start. Intellectuals, beginning with economists and lawyers, create all sorts of arguments to justify the looting. The main reason why intellectuals tend to be socialists is, I think, that the state is their main employer.

State institutions, among them the judicial branch, were not created in a void; they are the product of politics and politicians’ ravenous appetite. As such, they are zealous defenders of the status quo.

How should idealists confront this situation? First, we should abandon any illusion that the system can reform itself. Even though some minor reforms are possible and have been achieved, truly reforming the system is as feasible as catching a tiger by the tail.

The first step would be to come to power, but there is always a hefty price to pay. Interest groups do not provide support for free. We must abandon the idealist view that we can achieve power without compromises or offering questionable favors in return. In addition, incumbents resort to vague and complex laws to squeeze out anyone who threatens the system.

I’m not suggesting that the accused are not guilty. I simply affirm that nobody obtains power with clean hands, and that a tiger will pounce on those who attempt to trim its claws.

This is why Cuba‘s moral depravity under Fidel Castro is accepted as legitimate while, in other countries, heads of state end up in jail for lesser crimes. Cuba is where the tiger’s claws have grown the most, perhaps as an inevitable result of a system built around Castro’s socialist ideology.

We classical liberals should understand that corruption is the essence of the state, and that it is impossible to tame a tiger. As Nietzsche wrote, “state is the name of the coldest of all cold monsters. Coldly it lies; and this lie slips from its mouth: ‘I, the state, am the people.'”

Olmedo Miró is a farmer and an economist living in Chiriquí, Panama. Follow @olmedovirtual.

Translated by Daniel Raisbeck.

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