Background: In terms of ecology, a “niche” is a specific combination of factors which create the environment which an organism inhabits. At larger scales it’s the situation which a species inhabits. Nature is damned efficient so if there’s a food source, light, water, nutrients, whatever a critter might need there’s invariably a critter trying to exploit it. That’s what makes ecology fun.
The recent spate of “shocking”, “unexpected”, “unprecedented” scandals emanating from D.C. led me to coin the following term:
Corruption Niche – (noun) An administrative or organizational situation that forms an ideal opportunity for corruption. Niches fall anywhere from situations that support mildly unethical behavior to those that force criminal malfeasance. If a corruption niche is particularly egregious, the question is not “if” it’ll produce misbehavior, but “when”.
The Nation is currently atwitter about IRS agents interfering with the tax exempt status of political organizations. Unless you live under a rock (and in my case, even if you do) you know that Right Wing or TEA Party organizations were refused or delayed while Left Wing organizations weren’t. Predictably, Right Wingers are incensed. Happily even some Left Wingers are disconsolate. They understand the shoe will someday be on the other foot. Good for them.
I, on the other hand, have an entirely different reaction. Of course this would happen. Folks have been complaining about it since the TEA Party evolved. I presumed their complaints to have substance simply because it made sense. I particularly note that our quadrennial election cycle coincides with an outbreak of “the ends justify the means” thinking. Who among us didn’t assume the IRS was behaving badly? Why? It is no longer 1950 and irrational naiveté is out of style, so I ask again, “why should we collectively assume the IRS was manned by uniquely saintly folk who are immune to deviousness”?
The fact that the IRS “blesses” certain organizations as tax exempt is a self fulfilling encouragement to corruption. The situation might have been created with good intentions (which I don’t assume for a minute) but in practice it’s a ripe environment for bad behavior. It’s therefore unsurprising that corruption has come home to roost. In fact it’s more or less a certainty.
Who among us thinks it’s wise to force portions of the government into decisions that are both subjective and directly impact the government’s well being? Furthermore, we’ve come to accept that it’s normal and logical that a group must come on hands and knees begging for government “approval”? Really? Why!?! It’s weak. It’s demeaning. It’s a fuse in search of a match.
In this instance, the “non profit” organizations in question are actively agitating for smaller government. This is an opinion almost tautologically certain to anger many IRS employees. Presumably those who are employed within the government generally tend to think well of it. Who would expect them to roll out the red carpet for advocates of it’s reduction? You wouldn’t expect TEA Party enthusiasts within the IRS any more than you’d expect arcophobics (fear of heights) in a skydiving club.
Surely it’s reasonable to presume that the government, when it’s put in the unenviable situation of selecting which political entities shall receive its “blessing”, might show the exact bias we’ve discovered. It is, after all, staffed by humans. (Though some might disagree.) Surely many many IRS folks did their best to play fair. The game was simply rigged to tempt them. As surely as night follows day, some folks failed the test. How high up the food chain such failure goes is anyone’s guess and I’m certain we’ll have to pull teeth to find out. Regardless, being shocked at the discovery is foolish.
My point is that it’s unwise to create situations where organizations must behave according to exceptionally moral natures. We are not angels. Nobody is. We all have vested interest and personal proclivities. That’s why concentrated organizational power is dangerous.
It’s self defeating to build the trap and add the cheese just so you can be shocked when a mouse gets snapped. I won’t play that game. None of us should!
Of course, doing stupid things is nothing new. What’s new is the degree of concentration on power. Whether by design or accident, we’ve year by year funneled more power (or money) through our Government. It’s been going on for most of the last century. For no particular reason, we assume fallible humans will receive that awesome power and miraculously leave it unused. Who thinks like that? It’s better to avoid the situation in the first place.
All of this brings me to a Curmudgeonly Gem of Insight:
“No concentration of power can remain unsullied by corruption forever. Where the opportunity to behave unethically exists, someone will eventually behave unethically. This applies to any organization; from the IRS, to the Church, to the Kremlin, to a PTA meeting.”
As for the IRS; the solution to the current kerfluffle is simple. Those who behaved particularly unethically should be fired. Those who actually broke the law should be prosecuted. (Duh! That’s why we make laws.) Then the problem should be fixed. Situations where the IRS gets to pick and choose winners and losers should be eliminated or mitigated.
I predict that almost none of this to happen. The extent to which my prediction comes true is how we’ll know the extent of corruption niches festering in our world.
You know the rest.
Grant the IRS this much; they are among the least objectionable Tax Collectors in human history. Of course that IS a little like being among the least objectionable pustulant Nazi rapists.
Excellent piece. The term “corruption niche” is perfectly applied, and I love the simplicity it lends to the whole situation. Where the resources exist to support corruption, corruption will adapt to fill the role. Perfect.