‘The love of money is the root of all evil’

That headline is quote from the Bible, in St. Paul’s letter to Timothy. It’s also, according to the Pardoner in Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales,” the theme of all his sermons, even though he admits he is a greedy man who is only a traveling preacher because it pays so well.

There’s simply too much money sloshing around in government right now. We’ve seen this in sports, and it’s not very different. In Chaucer’s 14th-century England, there was too much money in religion. Some people who got into these things — government, sports or religion — for the right reasons are able to resist the lure of lucre, to some degree or other, but for others, the sheer quantity of it overwhelms their better angels.

A honey pot attracts ants — and sometimes bears — to the picnic. As we know in the Adirondacks, it’s better for everyone if bears feed in the wild rather than become accustomed to taking food from campsites and garbage cans. Likewise for healthy capitalism. Government incentives long ago reached a point at which many businesspeople pursue public funds as a first resort: Privatize gains, socialize losses.

Getting a piece of the action sometimes requires paying off state government people who have access to it: from Percoco to Silver to an arts council volunteer to the governor himself. The way things are empowers these people to do unhealthy things. The bribers find what these gatekeepers want or need, and try to make attractive offers. Pay to play.

For a politician, the number-one job is to get elected, and campaign funds help ensure that. That’s an easy target for bribers, so political campaigns have become big business.

Fixing this won’t be easy or quick, but as citizens who want improvement, we need to keep our eyes on the big picture. As much as we berate our government workers and business interlopers, we need to do our best to change the environment in which they operate. If the current system rewards them for greedy behavior more than it punishes them, that’s what many of them will do, like it our not.

Somehow we need to elect people who will actually drain some of the money out of government and politics. Reducing the tax money available to the private sector would seem like a good place to start.

Also, more transparency and strictness around campaign donations would help. One proposal being batted around in Albany is to close the “LLC loophole,” thus preventing people from evading campaign donation limits by giving as shell companies rather than under their real names. It’s an obvious cheat that should have been stopped long ago.

We are not, however, in favor of Cuomo’s proposal to eliminate outside income for legislators. That would involve making them full-time employees, with a huge pay raise they’ve been pursuing for years. That would be expensive and unnecessary, and we don’t see how it would stop pay-to-play schemes on the side.

In the short term, at least, legislative solutions are limited. We will never arrange the system to perfectly corral public servants and business people into moral pathways. Money is power, and draining it out of government would require people with power to either give it up or have it taken away. Neither would kill them, though, so why is it so rare? Greed and pride. They’re intertwined, but we’ll try to untangle the pride part tomorrow.

The Adirondack Daily Enterprise

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