Corruption and meanness in local government

I was recently asked a question: Can a city’s water department mess with the water meters?

My answer was, to put it mildly, a bit on the bitter side.  I speak from experience, about local government in general, and from seeing how city and town and township administrations and bureaucrats abuse the people they are supposed to be serving.

Of course they can mess with the water meters.

They can reprogram, reset, change the internal mechanism, and of course, just program their billing computers to add in (or take away) a factor: you actually use 10,000 gallons but the meter and/or bill reads 12,000 gallons! Or for a buddy, they can change that from 10,000 to 1,000 gallons, with a few keystrokes, while mumbling something like “line losses” and “fire department training.”

What keeps them from doing that sort of thing? Morals and ethics of the individuals involved is really the only thing – that same “honor” that US House Speaker Pelosi so denigrates, when it comes to vaccinations at least.

Theoretically, there are systems for supervisors and even elected officials to prevent such things from happening. But they are easily sidestepped, and often worthless – in part because ultimately they depend on individual’s morals and ethics. Government – and too many government employees – is corrupt, greedy, and power-seeking.

We can NOT trust local government. But much of the system is designed to REMOVE ratepayer, citizen, voter, “interference” in workings of government agencies. Because that maximized the power, the influence, the opportunities, and yes, even the job satisfaction that local government officials enjoy. The very nature of local government is an attraction to exactly the personalities that thrive on such things.

It isn’t just corruption. It is also meanness. Meanness akin to that portrayed in Charles DIckens’ novels about work- and poor-houses and orphanages. Where the caretakers are drawn to the job of ruling the inmates because of the opportunities to abuse those for whom they are paid to help.

One of the most serious defects of modern governmental theory in these Fifty States is the bizarre concept of “police power.”

Merriam Webster defines this as:  the inherent power of a government to exercise reasonable control over persons and property within its jurisdiction in the interest of the general security, health, safety, morals, and welfare except where legally prohibited”

Oh, so many fuzzy things, for the eyes of the beholder to snatch onto and abuse! “Reasonable control” is defined by whom? “Legally prohibited” here is a NEGATIVE: it ASSUMES that government has the power to do anything it wants to do UNLESS it is specifically prohibited from doing that thing.

Funny – don’t think I ever ran into a town charter or a city ordinance that prohibited municipal officials or employees from being mean. Have you?

Nor, when you get down to it, any law which prohibits them from being corrupt. Oh, the law babbles on about illegal payments (bribes and such) and stealing and trading favors and accepting gifts. But all that does is “officially” block off the simple ways of being corrupt. There is no way to prevent triangle (or more segments) transmission of favors, cash, or credit. Nothing that prohibits setting up things so that your relatives (or your future self, out of office) from benefiting. Reformers – often fake reformers – try and try again, but they just create more routes for corruption. And for meanness.

The corruption and meanness of local government and its decision makers and enforcers doesn’t limit itself to adults and scoffers. We are now in lemonade-stand season in most of the Fifty States: any bets on when the first lemonade-stand citation and fine will be written and publicized? By code enforcement, the cops, the health department, or child protective services? Ditto for children under the age of, oh, twelve, farther away from an adult than the length of a dog leash? Or heaven forbid, someone riding a bicycle without a license plate. Or pushing a lawnmower with too much smoke.

Meanness, like corruption, is impossible to outlaw effectively: there is always a way of expressing it available to those who enjoy being mean to others. Especially when they have a little bit of power.

Which is why the solution to reducing corruption and meanness lies not in laws and punishments, but in limiting (and eliminating) government.

About TPOL Nathan

Follower of Christ Jesus (a christian), Pahasapan (resident of the Black Hills), Westerner, Lover of Liberty, Free-Market Anarchist, Engineer, Army Officer, Husband, Father, Historian, Writer, Evangelist. Successor to Lady Susan (Mama Liberty) at TPOL.
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2 Responses to Corruption and meanness in local government

  1. Steve says:

    I think probably the best way to eliminate corruption is to set the incentives correctly. Offering a bribe should be legal, accepting it, illegal, and offer a “finder’s fee” for information leading to a conviction. If entrapment isn’t a crime for the fuzz, it shouldn’t be a crime for the citizenry.


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