Corruption: We’re doin’ it wrong

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Robert Frank argues that libertarian activists, unlike our left-wing counterparts, can’t possibly understand what it means to “sell out” and get a “real,” higher paying job in the for-profit sector:

Consider the poor Washington libertarian. Everywhere else in America his type is an exotic species, a coffee-shop heretic who quotes from “Atlas Shrugged” and steers every conversation toward Ron Paul or gold. Take him or leave him, he doesn’t care. He is his own master.

Not so the Beltway variety. Here, in the very home of the taxing, regulating leviathan, the libertarian is such a commonplace and unremarkable bird that no one gives him a second glance. Here he is a factotum of the establishment, a tiny voice in a vast choir assembled by business and its tax-exempt front groups to sing the virtues of the entrepreneur.

And therein lies his dilemma. Almost by definition, our young libertarian’s job is to celebrate the profit motive from the offices of a not-for-profit organization. He is subsidized, in other words, to hymn the unsubsidized way of life. Rugged individualism may be his creed, but a rugged individual he ain’t.

This is more than just an abstract problem, as I discovered last week at a panel discussion hosted by America’s Future Foundation, one of the lesser libertarian nonprofits in the city. The questions that night were whether nonprofit work constituted a “real job” and if moving to the private sector was “selling out” – ideas well known to any liberal do-gooder…

Selling out is not a threat to the market order; selling out is how the market gets its way. Just look at the city in which all these remarks were made. Private-sector Washington is one of the wealthiest places in America. Public-service Washington lags considerably behind. The chance of ditching the one for the other is what accounts for everything from the power of K Street to the infamous “revolving door,” by which a public servant takes a cushy corporate job after engineering some extravagant government favor for the corporation in question – or its clients.

The libertarian nonprofits that line the city’s streets often serve merely to rationalize this operation after the fact, giving a pious shine to the policies that are made in this unholy manner.

Oh no, our cover is blown! Cato Institute scholars are clearly in the pocket of the corporate donors who make up less than 10 percent of the organization’s funding. Just look at the site’s front page. There’s Ilya Somin arguing for better eminent domain protections for small property owners against politically connected developers. And here’s Swaminathan Aiyar noting the stupidity of biofuel subsidies that have been forced unwanted upon the nation’s big agricultural companies. Or how about Gerald O’Driscoll, a former Federal Reserve vice president, decrying the Fed’s bailout of Bear Stearns and the sweet deal it negotiated for Morgan Stanley? He’s just itching for a job at one of the other big banking firms.

Reason is even worse. Jacob Sullum’s opposition to the Phillip Morris-backed FDA legislation is merely a clever ploy to hide his friendly relationship with the nation’s largest tobacco company. Or perhaps he’s betting on getting a job with an internet gambling company after helping them crush those weak and defenseless Vegas casinos. Personally, I’m secretly hoping my raw milk article will land me a well-paid appointment shoveling manure at a local dairy. I’m not sure what angle Radley Balko is playing by getting Mississippi Drug War victims off Death Row, but I’m sure it’s something.

And don’t even get me started on the “merry litigators” at the Institute for Justice. They’re currently celebrating their victory on behalf of an Arizona bar owner who may now allow his customers to dance. We can expect IJ attorneys to line up cushy gigs in the Big Dance industry in no time.

Frank is right. We libertarians are conniving for luxurious, generously rewarded jobs in the for-profit sector. We’re just really, really bad it.