The Blagojevich Upside

To call Rod Blagojevich‘s alleged crimes lunacy is to give the moon a bad name. So I won’t even ponder here what led him to do what he is said to have done.

Blagojevich earned a brief mention in Freakonomics, in a section arguing that having a lot of books at home doesn’t cause children to do better at school. It’s true that kids from book-filled homes do better at school — but that’s because the books are a proxy for well-educated parents.

But Blagojevich was a true believer:

In early 2004, Governor Rod Blagojevich announced a plan to mail one book a month to every child in Illinois from the time they were born until they entered kindergarten. The plan would cost $26 million a year. But, Blagojevich argued, this was a vital intervention in a state where 40 percent of third graders read below their grade level. “When you own [books] and they’re yours,” he said, “and they just come as part of your life, all of that will contribute to a sense … that books should be part of your life.”

O.K., so he kind of talked in a circle. And O.K., his plan was ultimately rejected. But at least he wasn’t trying to get a piece of the book sales (as far as we know).

But that wasn’t even the first section of our book that came to mind while reading about Blagojevich. Rather, I thought about how sumo wrestlers collude to throw matches. One of the pieces of evidence in the argument was that the collusion stopped for a while whenever corruption charges hit the media. There is nothing like scrutiny to improve behavior.

So now that Blagojevich’s corruption charges have hit the media, I’m guessing we’ll see some super-squeaky-clean behavior among those governors and other politicians who are in the middle of handing out U.S. Senate seats and other goodies. What kind of quid pro quo can, say, New York Governor David Paterson be expecting as he considers replacements for Hillary Clinton‘s seat? He may not have expected much to begin with but, for Paterson as well as a lot of others, a gloomy Christmas season may have just gotten a little gloomier.

The upside, of course, is that any politicians hoping to cash in on an appointment or a contract or a piece of legislation will probably be scared off by the Blagojevich bust. Which might — might — mean that politics becomes a bit less corrupt, at least for the next few months.

Johnny E

I thought sumo wrestlers dealt in collisions, not collusions.


The Blagojevich Upside?

Doesn't that sort of fall in the "you know, Hitler built the Autobahn" category?


What is truly scary is that some of the quotes from this guy made it sound like he thought this sort of corruption was the most obvious, most natural way in the world to go about appointing a senator. As if he'd be foolish to do it any other way.


I'm not so sure that any appointments will be "squeaky clean." After all, by this same logic, one would expect that Blogojevich -- who already knew he was under investigation for events going back to 2003, some involving Rezko -- would have conducted himself in "squeaky clean" fashion too.

But he didn't.

Trying to figure out why is probably impossible at this point, but it IS clear that he did NOT take increased scrutiny into account in dealing with the Senate appointment he was planning to make.

Lots of people -- politicians and otherwise -- who are doing wrong, think they can get away with it and continue doing wrong, even in light of increased scrutiny. Who knows why they do it; I expect the motivations are different in different cases. Sometimes it's because they've made specific arrangments to evade or undermine the scrutiny (e.g. Whitey Bulgur who had at least one "inside man" in the FBI). Sometimes it's because they believe themselves to be above the law. Other times it could be that they underestimated the scrutiny.

At any rate, assuming that Paterson's Senate appointment will be "squeaky clean," is simply not a "given." Not that I suspect Paterson is up to no good ... I just think this assumption has been proven wrong too many times in the past to be sure of it in every case.



Interesting assessment, but I don't think we'll see the full effect of such deterrence until he's punished, so if he gets off the hook some how (it's Illinois crazier things have happened) it could have the opposite effect.


What Mr. Blagojevich was trying to do sounds reasonable when you consider the fact that most 3 graders read below their level. It would have been a long-term investment with no guarantees.
Politics is still corrupt even when it is scrutinized by the media. The media just joins the corruption when they are paid off by politics to keep quiet. In the end corruption persists because everyone taking part in it is better off.

Leigh Caldwell

Maybe he'll plead guilty in time for President Bush to pardon return for an Illinois Senate Seat?


What I find amazing is that message boards are full of suggestions that Blagojevich was taken down by Republican dirty tricks.

He's on tape, people. He's a crook.


It must take a team of stylists to maintain his Donald Trump-esque haircut. That requires cash flow, which may have led him down this road of pay-to-play corruption.


If it's true that the extra scrutiny leads to less corruption, would this suggest that Rod-o simply didn't hear about the fate of the former Illinois gov'r?

Or could corruption and Illinois politics be positively correlated?

Very similar to the questions: Does it snow because it's cold or does the snow cause it to be cold or is there some other factors that cause both?

Does corruption cause Illinois Politcs?
Does Illinois Politics cause corruption?
Or are there other factors causing both?

Joe Smith

Something like 2% of all men are sociopaths and the portion is higher among lawyers, stock brokers and politicians. Some are just smart enough to memorize at an intellectual level the difference between right and wrong. Being sociopaths they don't really understand what the fuss is all about over issues like honesty but the smart ones learn and remember where society's hot buttons are.

The plan to send books might have worked if instead of books they had sent comics.

Mark Curatolo

The obvious argument against this line of thinking is that Rod Blagojevich committed some of his accused crimes in the midst of the former IL governor's extremely public corruption trial!


I'm just wondering how many horses had to lose their tails to make that hair possible.


#8. To further your point (besides the obvious that it was his own words), there's no real Republican party to speak of at the Illinois State Level or in the City of Chicago...just different factions of Democrats.

#10 Being from the Chicago area my whole life, I would say that the Chicago Politics cause's just become the way of life for all of these guys. It's the accepted way of doing business, unfortunately. From a national perspective, this whole thing seems shocking, but from people here (outside of politics), it's not shocking that this was going on. It's just shocking how stupid this guy really was in the manner he got caught..


Maybe it could have the opposite effect -- kind of when you see a cop in the highway you might believe you won't see another one in miles. So I think this is the right time to be corrupted. The defense can always be the "do-you-think-I-am-that-stupid" kind of defense.

On another note, I do not find the quotes from Blagojevich that outrageous. He plainly says, hey I'm giving a senate seat. I'm giving something of high value. He needs to get something on return. Isn't that what politics is all about? I have yet to hear him mentioning dollars.

Do you really think that you'll give a senate seat for nothing in exchange? At the minimum you choose somebody close to your party, your ideals, and that has an economic value to you. So what's the big deal. Maybe senate seats should have a price.

Steve H

There is, of course, an obvious and simple answer to the question of why Blagojevich kept participating in the corruption, despite his knowledge of the scrutiny he was under as well as the former governor's demise - he's an idiot!


I'm glad his idea was rejected..i figured intelligent people were meant to hold office...

Third graders are little kids, few of them read for fun, rather out of obligation. His plan is the equivalent of giving free brocolli to ten year olds every day: yeah, they'll eat it just because its there....won;t they?....

The barrier to increased reading level is motivation, not lack of money to buy books, at least for the most part; isn;t that what public libraries are for anyways? Does owning books really make it any different? The hassle of going to pick it up seems too small to account for such a statistic.

Whether new appointments will be cleaner in office depends on punishment and the magnitude of such. A slap on the wrist is laughable, the benefits far outweight the risks. Lets hope the justice system (by this i mean the media guilt bomb) comes through.


To #2: No, it does not, and you should be ashamed of yourself.


As a Canadian, I'm wondering why this scandal is happening at all.

Americans have democracy up the wazoo, but you don't have any measures in place to permit the byelection of a Senator?


@8 CandyKay:

What message boards are you reading? Clearly none from the midwest. Everyone in Illinois hates Blago, except maybe his wife. He had a 13% approval rating at last count, and I think that minority comprised people he handed no-show jobs to.

I'm interested to read the delusional ramblings of people who are on his side... that would be pure comedy.

And now Jesse Jackson is coming down with him! Ha ha ha! It's too much!