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Corruption's cost, beyond Blagojevich

'Rent-seeking' hurts society and perverts the work of government.

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Gordon Tullock is not a household name. It's a shame that he's not. In contrast, disgraced Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich a household name. It's a shame that he is.

These two men have little in common except that Mr. Tullock, an eminent economist, is the first scholar who systematically grasped and explained why the actions of politicians such as Mr. Blagojevich are so harmful to the rest of us.

It takes no genius to understand Blagojevich sought to enrich his purse and enlarge his power by allegedly trying to sell a US Senate seat. Four-year-old children understand self-interest and aren't shocked by it. And all sensible adults understand that politicians are no less self-interested than are bankers or beauty queens. As H.L. Mencken observed long ago about : "...it is to his interest to augment his powers at all hazards, and to make his compensation all the traffic will bear."

Understanding just actions such as Blagojevich's create widespread harm, however, is more involved than it appears.

Obviously, a governor who uses his appointment powers to feather his own nest is a scoundrel. And such ill-begotten appointees are likely to be inferior, so the public suffers.

But this is only the tip of the antisocial iceberg. As Tullock first recognized (in a paper published in 1967), enormous amounts of resources – including human talent – are wasted in the pursuit of government privileges.

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