They will squander away the public money in wanton presents to minions, and their creatures of pleasure or of burden, or in pensions to mercenary and worthless men and women, for vile ends and traitorous purposes. They will engage their country in ridiculous, expensive, fantastical wars, to keep the minds of men in continual hurry and agitation, and under constant fears and alarms; and, by such means, deprive them both of leisure and inclination to look into public miscarriages.

—John Trenchard. Cato’s Letters No. 17, What Measures are actually taken by wicked and desperate ministers to ruin and enslave their Country, Saturday, February 18, 1721.

Corrupt legislators conspire to cling to power, even those of apparently opposing factions, through the use of gerrymandering and passing laws to garner campaign funding. The corrupt refusal to leave office has been observed in democracies as far back as the second Decemvirate and before—it is ingrained in human nature.

The other behavior typical of a corrupt leadership is that it encourages the people themselves to indulge in immorality and not to question their misgovernment. Thus, the corrupt Catholic Church of the Dark Ages sold indulgences, while the Roman emperors encouraged debauchery. We see this same symptom today in America. Everyone knows that living beyond your means is immoral, yet the Congress continually piles vast deficits on top of vast deficits, wickedly passing the cost of this profligacy on to unborn children. Meanwhile they debauch the currency and force easy credit down the people’s throats. Welfare dependency is encouraged, bailouts—and therefore abrogation of responsibility—is encouraged. All these policies are designed to corrupt the American people so they will acquiesce in their own plunder.

The stink of corruption in the United States Congress will make future generations shake their heads the way Enlightenment theorists shook their heads at the corruption in the dying days of the Roman Republic and the way we look at Tammany Hall. Turnover is so low that the majority of seats have become virtually life appointments. So great is the power of patronage that it is near impossible for virtuous reformers to gain a toehold. The people have long recognized the need to chase these money changers from the temple of freedom. In the early 1990s referenda and initiatives to limit congressional terms were put to a vote in twenty-three states. They all succeeded, but the Supreme Court struck them down on specious grounds. The American people clearly understand the problem but have lost control of their government, which can only be taken back now through a constitutional amendment to limit congressional terms. The only problem is that the only practical way to amend the Constitution is by a two-thirds majority of each House of Congress—about as likely as Hitler agreeing to step down and allow free elections to take place.

This article is an extract from the book ‘Principles of Good Government’ by Matthew Bransgrove