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Is there a completely painless way to cut wasteful government spending without having to give up the perceived benefits of the spending?
The answer, of course, is yes! By clamping down on corruption and other ethically questionable practices by politicians and bureaucrats, regular Americans could benefit by both reducing government spending and making it more effective in achieving its intended purposes.
How much could be saved? According to a recent study by Cheol Liu and John Mikesell, who measured the cost of corruption at the state government level, an average of $1,308 per person could be saved in just the 10 states with the highest level of corruption as determined by the number of convictions of public officials under federal corruption laws in the years from 1976 through 2008.
Fortune‘s Chris Matthews describes the researchers findings:
The researchers studied more than 25,000 convictions of public officials for violation of federal corruption laws between 1976 and 2008 as well as patterns in state spending to develop a corruption index that estimates the most and least corrupt states in the union. Based on this method, the the most corrupt states are:
8. South Dakota
That these places landed on the list isn’t exactly surprising. Illinois, which has gain notoriety for its high-profile corruption cases in recent years, is paired with states like Mississippi and Louisiana, which are some of the least economically developed in the country. The researchers also found that for 9 out of the 10 of the most corrupt states, overall state spending was higher than in less corrupt states (South Dakota was the only exception). Attacking corruption, the researchers argue, could be a good way to bring down state spending without hurting services that people need.
Researchers also found that spending in these states was different than their less corrupt counterparts. According to the report, “states with higher levels of corruption are likely to favor construction, salaries, borrowing, correction, and police protection at the expense of social sectors such as education, health and hospitals.”
The same principles apply to the federal government, but on a much larger scale, given its much larger level of spending, and that’s been particularly true since the nation’s spending exploded in the years since 2008, beginning with President Obama’s economic stimulus bill in 2009, which unleashed a torrent of corruption at the federal level, hurting regular Americans far more than it helped them:
WASHINGTON — The largest government infusion of cash into the U.S. economy in generations – the 2009 stimulus – was riddled with a massive labor scheme that harmed workers and cheated unsuspecting American taxpayers.
At the time, government regulators watched as money slipped out the door and into the hands of companies that rob state and federal treasuries of billions of dollars each year on stimulus projects and other construction jobs across the country, a yearlong McClatchy investigation found.
A review of public records in 28 states uncovered widespread cheating by construction companies that listed workers as contractors instead of employees in order to beat competitors and cut costs. The federal government, while cracking down on the practice in private industry, let it happen in stimulus projects in the rush to pump money into the economy at a time of crisis.
The stimulus set the stage for the institutionalization of corruption throughout the federal government, which continues to this day as a corrupted federal government continues to establish crony capitalism as President Obama’s primary economic program.
Clamping down on this unrestricted corruption by effectively enforcing federal laws against the unethical and unlawful conduct of politicians and bureaucrats would go a long way toward restoring trust to government while making the government that Americans are paying for both better and cheaper. And a good place to begin would be with the Department of Justice, which could get started by changing sides to join regular Americans in the fight against corruption in government.
U.S. State Department