Insider trading is considered such a serious offense by the federal government that it routinely prosecutes people and sends them to jail for it — unless you’re a member of Congress, in which case the rules don’t seem to apply.
Spencer Bachus is a Republican congressman from the district in Alabama where I live. I’ve met him and I have friends who know him, but I can’t say I know the man. He’s been in the news lately, but for all the wrong reasons. When CBS News’ magazine “60 Minutes” ran a story last Sunday about members of Congress who were involved in insider trading, Bachus was prominently mentioned. It appears that Bachus was taking secret information he was getting as a member of the House Committee on Financial Services and using that to trade banking stocks that he knew were about to go down in value.
Bachus says that nothing he did was illegal, but he also says he quit trading stocks late last year. I wonder why he quit doing what he was doing if it was perfectly legal and ethical.
Here in Alabama, many conservatives and Republicans are outraged about Bachus’ behavior and are calling on him to resign. About 50 or 6o conservatives gathered at Bachus’ Birmingham office Thursday to protest.
It’s a good thing that conservatives recognize that the man they’ve been supporting as their congressman is unethical and needs to go, but I have a question for them. Who do they expect to be a good replacement? If this man has been able to fool them since he was elected in 1992, what makes them think their next choice will be any better? And what makes them think that simply replacing individual pieces of a corrupt and coercive system is going to make any difference?
I understand that people are angry. I understand that they’ve been trained to believe that “getting the right person for the job” is going to solve everything. But have they ever seen any credible evidence that this is the case?
The problem isn’t the unethical people we send to be members of Congress or to run various parts of government. The problem is the system itself. Getting rid of Bachus — or even throwing out all of the incumbents and replacing them with new people — doesn’t fix the basic flaws in the system. The core issue that we give a group of people unlimited power to grant favors and do whatever they decide to do to the rest of us. Whoever we place in that position is going to become corrupt, because what we’re sending them to do is immoral in the first place. The sign here would be more accurate if you struck the word “big” and replaced it with “coercive,” but coercive government is still a criminal enterprise even if it’s small.
We tell ourselves that it’s an honor and a responsibility to be elected to high office. The truth is that we’re sending people to operate levers of a machine that enslaves and kills. In the belly of that beast, what’s a little insider trading? Every now and then, the rabble get angry and demand a sacrifice of the election gods — and someone such as Bachus is thrown overboard. But does it really change anything? Is the system any different?
It’s time to change the system. Don’t just boot a congressman. Boot the entire coercive state.