Skip to content

A step toward public integrity

October 1, 2021

I agree with Binyamin Appelbaum that it is inherently corrupting when a government official holds an interest in a specific company. No matter how much that official tries to act with integrity and impartiality, such investment will earn an undue fraction of their mindshare, creating biases that cannot be overcome simply by trying to act with impartiality. Appelbaum proposes:

Public officials should be restricted to passive investments like index mutual funds, which invest in broad categories of companies or assets. Anything else, like a family business, should have to go in a blind trust.

Is a blind trust enough? Even if someone puts their meat packing plant, as example, into a blind trust, they still are aware of the nature of that business. Their financial interest in it will sway what they read about related industry and how they think about it. That in turn biases all sorts of decisions, even in someone trying hard to act responsibly and fairly. Why not require liquidation, rather than a mere curtain, with everyone knowing what is behind it? Public service is a full-time commitment. When someone accepts appointment as a judge, or wins public office, or otherwise works in government, they should divest their interest in specific private business. That does not require divesting wealth. As Appelbaum points out, the modern financial world provides plenty of diversified, passive investments to grow it. Nor does it mean they cannot reenter the business world when they are done with public service. It merely requires they not pursue both simultaneously, linking those interests in ways they shouldn’t be.

The problem, of course, is that reform of this sort is not politically exciting. Few will push for it. Too many voters seem not to care. Including many who are quick voice complaints about political corruption.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: