The Blagojevich Upside

To call Rod Blagojevich‘s alleged crimes lunacy is to give the moon a bad name. So I won’t even ponder here what led him to do what he is said to have done.

Blagojevich earned a brief mention in Freakonomics, in a section arguing that having a lot of books at home doesn’t cause children to do better at school. It’s true that kids from book-filled homes do better at school — but that’s because the books are a proxy for well-educated parents.

But Blagojevich was a true believer:

In early 2004, Governor Rod Blagojevich announced a plan to mail one book a month to every child in Illinois from the time they were born until they entered kindergarten. The plan would cost $26 million a year. But, Blagojevich argued, this was a vital intervention in a state where 40 percent of third graders read below their grade level. “When you own [books] and they’re yours,” he said, “and they just come as part of your life, all of that will contribute to a sense … that books should be part of your life.”

O.K., so he kind of talked in a circle. And O.K., his plan was ultimately rejected. But at least he wasn’t trying to get a piece of the book sales (as far as we know).

But that wasn’t even the first section of our book that came to mind while reading about Blagojevich. Rather, I thought about how sumo wrestlers collude to throw matches. One of the pieces of evidence in the argument was that the collusion stopped for a while whenever corruption charges hit the media. There is nothing like scrutiny to improve behavior.

So now that Blagojevich’s corruption charges have hit the media, I’m guessing we’ll see some super-squeaky-clean behavior among those governors and other politicians who are in the middle of handing out U.S. Senate seats and other goodies. What kind of quid pro quo can, say, New York Governor David Paterson be expecting as he considers replacements for Hillary Clinton‘s seat? He may not have expected much to begin with but, for Paterson as well as a lot of others, a gloomy Christmas season may have just gotten a little gloomier.

The upside, of course, is that any politicians hoping to cash in on an appointment or a contract or a piece of legislation will probably be scared off by the Blagojevich bust. Which might — might — mean that politics becomes a bit less corrupt, at least for the next few months.

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  1. Johnny E says:

    I thought sumo wrestlers dealt in collisions, not collusions.

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  2. jblog says:

    The Blagojevich Upside?

    Doesn’t that sort of fall in the “you know, Hitler built the Autobahn” category?

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  3. MikeM says:

    What is truly scary is that some of the quotes from this guy made it sound like he thought this sort of corruption was the most obvious, most natural way in the world to go about appointing a senator. As if he’d be foolish to do it any other way.

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  4. DJH says:

    I’m not so sure that any appointments will be “squeaky clean.” After all, by this same logic, one would expect that Blogojevich — who already knew he was under investigation for events going back to 2003, some involving Rezko — would have conducted himself in “squeaky clean” fashion too.

    But he didn’t.

    Trying to figure out why is probably impossible at this point, but it IS clear that he did NOT take increased scrutiny into account in dealing with the Senate appointment he was planning to make.

    Lots of people — politicians and otherwise — who are doing wrong, think they can get away with it and continue doing wrong, even in light of increased scrutiny. Who knows why they do it; I expect the motivations are different in different cases. Sometimes it’s because they’ve made specific arrangments to evade or undermine the scrutiny (e.g. Whitey Bulgur who had at least one “inside man” in the FBI). Sometimes it’s because they believe themselves to be above the law. Other times it could be that they underestimated the scrutiny.

    At any rate, assuming that Paterson’s Senate appointment will be “squeaky clean,” is simply not a “given.” Not that I suspect Paterson is up to no good … I just think this assumption has been proven wrong too many times in the past to be sure of it in every case.

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  5. Randall says:

    Interesting assessment, but I don’t think we’ll see the full effect of such deterrence until he’s punished, so if he gets off the hook some how (it’s Illinois crazier things have happened) it could have the opposite effect.

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  6. pelayo@cms says:

    What Mr. Blagojevich was trying to do sounds reasonable when you consider the fact that most 3 graders read below their level. It would have been a long-term investment with no guarantees.
    Politics is still corrupt even when it is scrutinized by the media. The media just joins the corruption when they are paid off by politics to keep quiet. In the end corruption persists because everyone taking part in it is better off.

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  7. Leigh Caldwell says:

    Maybe he’ll plead guilty in time for President Bush to pardon him…in return for an Illinois Senate Seat?

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  8. CandyKay says:

    What I find amazing is that message boards are full of suggestions that Blagojevich was taken down by Republican dirty tricks.

    He’s on tape, people. He’s a crook.

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