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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.