I’ve been grading tests and papers while chairing a search committee, so my blogging time is rather restricted. However, the recent coverage of Rangel, Kerry, and Brooks got me thinking about corruption.
My main thought is that these people did not do something different in kind from most others of their type. After all, many politicians grow wealthy in office while enjoying various perks. Likewise, folks in the top corporate ranks do very well. Heck, even when they screw up amazingly and damage the company, they generally drift safely to the ground under their golden parachutes. For example, BP’s Hayward will get $1.6 million in pay, a $17 million pension and a new job in Russia. That this has been called “paltry” says a lot about how corporate culture works. For most of the rest of us, if we screw up (and even when we do not) we get fired and then have to turn to employment benefits to stay alive.
This is not to say that the practice is good because it is common. Rather, my point is that they stand out not because they did something others did not do, but because they either did too much of it or did it in a way that does, in fact, really draw attention.
What these folks did seems to be a difference in quantity. That is, they did too much and crossed that informal line between what counts as perks and compensation and entered into the realm of what most would consider the land of corruption. In the case of Kerry, his transgression seems fairly minor. By keeping his boat in another state he did nothing illegal-just something that the folks in Massachusetts might frown on.
So, the lesson here seems to be that one must stay within certain limits (very, very broad limits) or risk getting in trouble. Of course, it remains to be seen if Rangel or Brooks will actually get in trouble. I suspect Brooks will and Rangel might well slip away again.