My degree in economics actually has me agreeing with a more conservative mindset in many macroeconomic concepts, and I am much more center left than most of my friends, including my fiancée Justin. I’m not writing this piece to be a left-ist mouthpiece.
Right now, on the eve of the new congress being sworn into office, I don’t trust many of them. I dislike the overwhelmingly populist tone on both sides of the aisle, I don’t agree with repealing Obamacare, I know Medicare is important, I want the supreme court's decision on abortion left alone, and while I can see the appeal in Sanders, I didn’t even vote for him in the primaries (sorry, fellow millennials.) So when I got the notification tonight that House Republicans have seriously altered the only independent ethics office in congress I had three thoughts:
2. There’s only one independent ethics committee?
3. That committee is so loosely organized it can quickly and quietly be legislated out of commission in one private vote?
I mean seriously, WTF.
Like I mentioned, I’m a student of economics. I believe passionately in the power of incentives. We all react to incentives whether we like to admit it or not. You almost certainly work because you need money, or did at one point and now you’re just kinda in it. You drive the speeding limit because of the threat of an expensive speeding ticket, you go to the same coffee shop every morning because on the 10th day they give you a free drink, you bribe your toddler to behave with candies because even they understand the power of incentives. It’s a reality of our world. So I seriously do not understand why we would actively incentivize congress to be unethical.
You might think that is a serious leap, but it is not. Just like you or I, congress should be incentivized to behave above and beyond a standard of ethics that is previously agreed upon. If there is no threat of action for bad behavior, there is no strong incentive to act ethically. I don’t know about you, but having some sort of standard in place to actively keep our government officials in line seems mandatory, considering previous public scandals that probably quickly come to mind. I know our Representatives should be regularly investigated by someone other than themselves, and others who work with or around them should be able to seek an independent investigation if the standards are broken in some way, anonymously if they so choose. The House just got rid of several key components of this committee, assuming Paul Ryan does not block the changes.
First, there is no longer anonymity for submitting a complaint. SERIOUSLY. If in all my years at PacSun I had the ability to submit an anonymous complaint with regards to company standards, I think our congress should probably have the ability to do the same. The reality is that in many cases there is fear of retaliation for bringing a serious claim against someone you work with. So here, we are actively dis-incentivizing whistle blowing at the highest level.
Secondly, no information with regards to these complaints will need to be released to the public. Awesome. Why is less transparency in our government seen to be helpful? Because the individuals who will benefit directly from the ethics office’s privacy are actively writing these changes in policy.
I haven’t even mentioned our new President-Elect’s conflict of interest concerns and how this plays into this sudden change. Of course, the President will not necessarily be subject to a House committee, but I would trust a House that is willing to have a more transparent, honest, and serious discussion about ethics working directly with Trump significantly more than I trust what I am seeing right now. I need to know that our congress will hold each other and our new President to a strict and high ethical bar, because unfortunately, I do not trust our President-Elect.
So tomorrow morning, I’m picking back up my phone. My House Representative will hear my request first thing on their first day back from the holiday to push their colleagues to reinstate a public and anonymous ethics office. I will also be calling my Senators, and asking why they do not have a similar office overseeing the Senate. They work for us, and I plan on making my voice heard every single day of 2017. If I am held to a particular ethics standard at my place of employment, and have the ability to trust a fair investigation will be held if I submit a complaint of any type in my office, I see no reason why this can’t be the lowest standard for those who run our government.