THE PROBLEM - GOVERNMENT SERVICE IS A BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY INSTEAD OF A SERVICE TO THE COUNTRY
Our ability to act together in the face of real and severe problems is hampered by our governing system. The United States political system is structured so that the people we expect to assist us in our critical problems - global warming, climate change, income abyss between classes, refugee floods - are incentivized to make the problems created by private interests worse instead of better.
I refer to all elected Senators, Representatives and the President as well as all the political appointees to the Federal system who require Senate approval.
Government service is seen by some today as a money tree instead of an opportunity to really serve our society.
ETHICS LAWS TODAY DO NOT ENSURE THE PUBLIC GOOD IS SERVED
One of the factors contributing to this phenomenon in the United States may be the evident corruption of many legislators. The United States recognized this as a problem and created ethics laws. Congressional ethics and conflict of interest laws were adopted in the 1970's in an attempt to control legislative behavior. [https://ethics.house.gov/financial-dislosure/policies-underlying-disclosure]
But, several members of Congress have been jailed or fined due to corruption since the 1980's; a detailed list prepared by the Washington Post is available here:
Those laws did not eliminate the problem. An apparent weakness of Congressional Ethics laws seems to be that the laws rely on public disclosure as the sole punishment for illegal behavior. In other words, there does not appear to be any enforcement mechanism except court actions resulting from public disclosure or voter disapproval. A better enforcement method might include a positive system of identifying and investigating abuses before they become too egregious.
However these disclosure principles and practices operate in an environment where incumbents have a distinct advantage in re-election campaigns AND in a society where many businesses believe - and act - that a criminal act is a good business decision whenever the reward is more than the fine or punishment. Such practices have failed to prevent many criminal acts.
That failure has contributed IMHO to the struggles we face now.
LOOK TO ANCIENT CODES FOR A NEW SOLUTION
Our problems are large. They require concerted action at a time when concerted actions appear to be difficult or impossible.
Previous attempts at Campaign Finance Reform have failed to restrict conflict of interest actions; and that has helped foster an attitude of distrust.
I return to an ancient philosophy of governing from a time when leaders were known to the people. Government was more direct - if the leader failed it was evident immediately and the leader was replaced or the society suffered.
Perhaps we can adapt some ideas from that earlier time. Although the ideas herein were generated in Medieval Ireland, it is very likely that such ideas were universal at that time. It was a time in which the Cathedrals and forts, remains of which dot the European landscape today, were built.
The following is taken from a blog post by Stiofán MacAmhalghaidh in 'Fír Flathemon, Collective Responsibility and Social Order in Early Medieval Ireland', a link to which is provided below.
ADVICE TO A RULER
"Let him raise truth, it will raise him.
Let him exalt mercy, it exalth him
Let him care for his tribes, they will care for him
Let him help his tribes, they will help him
Let him soothe his tribes, they will soothe him"
[Fergus Kelly, A Guide To Early Irish Law, DIAS, 1988, 18-21. Kelly tends to favour 'justice' as a translation of fírinne, though one of the purposes of the present discussion is to show that 'truth' may be closer to the original meaning in most cases.]
'The advice in Audacht Morainn is built on a set of ideas about the individual's place in society and the rights and responsibilities this brings, about proper social order and the impact individual action has on this order and about the proper ordering of nature and the impact that the balance of social order has on that natural order. Cath Maige Tuired, though a mythical tale of the Túatha Dé Danann, is structured such as to demonstrate both the effects of disrupting the social and natural order and of restoring the balance to both systems. The central role of the rí, as the pinnacle of the social hierarchy, means that attention naturally falls on the actions of the holder of that position in both texts, especially in Audacht Morainn. This does not mean that his actions are the only ones that have an impact, and while this is implied in Audacht Morainn it is a constant theme in Cath Maige Tuired. Everyone has a place in society, everyone's actions have consequences, and everyone is affected by those consequences. Lug's request for knowledge from Bres completes the loop of action and consequences, linking individual, society and nature. The individual affects society, society affects nature, nature affects the individual.
Audacht Morainn, though written in the form of advice sent to a young ruler, contains within it a world-view capable of informing the actions of everyone in early medieval Irish society. Cath Maige Tuired, written as a mythical history of the gods and goddesses of Ireland's ancient past, contains in it a working-out of the world-view of Audacht Morainn and, though not structured as a lesson, it, too, can also inform the actions of the medieval Irish individual. For us, Cath Maige Tuired, though perhaps failing to give us a 'mirror on the Iron Age' can at least hold up a mirror to the society of early medieval Ireland.'
Blog post by Stiofán MacAmhalghaidh; Stiofán MacAmhalghaidh is Project Manager of the IRQUAS online Irish heritage project and Editor of INSIGHT Journal
Fír Flathemon, Collective Responsibility and Social Order in Early Medieval Ireland: Using Audacht Morainn to Interpret Cath Maige Tuired
ADAPTING ANCIENT CODES TO A 21ST CENTURY SYSTEM
So then, the question becomes: "How is it possible to adapt that concept of responsibility to 21st Century Society?"
Perhaps one of the questions today is this: 'How can we encourage responsiveness to the people when the structures in place provide real incentives to act in favor of the government and against the people?'
One answer may well be to change the ethics rules for all United States Federal employees who are elected and/or Confirmed by the Senate so that they do NOT have any incentive to act in their own, personal interests and against the people's interests.
RIGOROUS ETHICS CODE MAY ENSURE THE PUBLIC IS SERVED
The goal is to ensure as much as possible that all Officials cannot make a monetary gain from their positions. Unless we can find a way to ensure public officials place the public interest ahead of their private interests, our system may be unable to withstand the inevitable shocks that are surely coming. It is likely that all such stresses will become more severe over time.
1. Require all elected and confirmed officials to place all their assets exceeding One Million Dollars into a blind trust so that they cannot make any additions to or subtractions from the trust until 90 days after they are out of office.
2. Require that all such officials submit their federal tax returns each year to the FBI OFFICE OF ETHICS ENFORCEMENT while they hold the office.
3. The FBI shall proactively examine each individual's financial transaction to look for violation of conflict of interest or other pecuniary gain and shall bring enforcement actions whenever it is warranted.
This is different from the current system, which relies on public disclosure to ensure compliance.
OPTION - CREATE VOLUNTARY TRUST PROCESS
Since it may be difficult to introduce a legal requirement that eligible officials are forced to create a blind trust, perhaps an option is to provide a cost free trust process that eligible parties can create a trust voluntarily.
The House Ethics Committee could create a procedure whereby the Committee Staff will provide a blind trust facility to all qualified and interested parties.
HOUSE ETHICS COMMITTEE MEMBERS AND STAFF CONTACTS
Ethics Committee Members - Republicans
Susan W. Brooks, Indiana - Chairwoman
Kenny Marchant, Texas
Leonard Lance, New Jersey
Mimi Walters, California
John Ratcliffe, Texas
Ted Deutch, Florida - Ranking Member
Yvette D. Clarke, New York
Jared Polis, Colorado
Anthony Brown, Maryland
Steve Cohen, Tennessee
The Staff Director is Tom Rust, Chief Counsel & Staff Director
HOUSE ETHICS COMMITTEE
1015 Longworth House Office Building (LHOB)
Washington, DC 20515
Office Hours: Mon. - Fri.
9:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
While a voluntary process may be inadequate to ensure compliance for all parties, it may provide an easy method to get used to the idea. After all, the current system does not prevent criminal violations:
FAILURE OF DISCLOSURE TO CONTROL CORRUPTION
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