The Banality of Corruption
By Arnold Kling
The front page of today’s Washington Post has two stories on corruption. The main story is a stereotypical “one evil man” story on Jack Abramoff. The other story, on Maryland funeral law, probably explains everyday corruption more clearly.
Maryland’s leading mortuary owners say the law guards against an invasion of mega-corporations. But the law also has given those owners a virtual lock on the local trade, which some believe is why the state’s funeral costs are among the nation’s highest. A 2001 industry survey showed that a funeral in Maryland cost, on average, $166 more than it does elsewhere.
What Brown has discovered in his crusade: A bill that might seem perfectly logical to legislative leaders, the Federal Trade Commission and the state attorney general can be blocked by 59 funeral home owners and deep-sixed by a single delegate — 77-year-old Hattie N. Harrison. Harrison’s resistance demonstrates not only the Democrat’s loyalty to an influential constituent in her East Baltimore district but also offers a case study in how power is wielded in Annapolis.
The use of regulation to restrict entry is the oldest trick in the book for suppliers. My guess is that it costs consumers a lot more than Mr. Abramoff’s influence-peddling, and yet it rarely makes the front page. Call it the banality of corruption.