Baltimore’s police department gets a shout-out in this rational and realistic reminder from J.D. Tuccille about the importance of watching the watchers. As Tuccille writes after recounting some family experience with police corruption in New York, “Like many things in life, there’s probably no perfect fix. But, so long as we have police forces, we’re going to have a problem with police who abuse their positions and succumb to corruption.” And Tuccille is also right to point out that the dangers of corruption are particularly strong when the law tries to stop voluntary transactions between consenting adults: “Asking police officers to suppress highly profitable activities where there’s money to be had just for looking the other way is just begging for trouble.”
That’s all true, and the problem reaches far beyond police departments. The same danger arises with government economic regulation, whether we’re talking about licensing decisions made by establishment-oriented bureaucrats or nakedly protectionist statutes passed by state legislatures or bank bailouts passed by Congress. Power attracts influence. Wherever government power affects how much money people can make, the people affected by the laws will spend money (sometimes a lot of money) trying to control government power. Some people who recognize this think the solution is to “get the money out of politics.” What Libertarians understand is that it’s far better to limit the political power that attracts all that money in the first place.