Mere parsimony is not economy….Expense, and great expense, may be an essential part in true economy. – Edmund Burke
Almost two years ago I wrote “Dog Bites Man”, in which I pointed out that despite the well-known maxim, news organizations regularly present typical, ordinary events as though they were newsworthy:
Sometimes they become newsworthy because of the unusual size of the dog or the sheer number of people bitten; sometimes it’s just a slow news day, and very often such stories are the equivalent of the…misdirection used by a conjurer to draw attention away from what he’s actually doing. But in some cases “dog bites man” stories become newsworthy because the media have succeeded in convincing enough people that dogs actually don’t bite men, so when it happens in a public place silly people are either surprised or must at least pretend to be.
The classic example of the latter case is anything involving sex, and most especially anything involving sex work. Though every normal person has sexual feelings and every last one of us is the product of heterosexual intercourse, the American media (and to a lesser extent the British) seem to function under the premise that people having sex is something unusual and worthy of note. And though most men have paid for sex at least once, many do it on a regular basis, at least one of any moderate-sized group of women has taken money for it, and most women have taken some non-monetary thing of value for it, the press inevitably treats information about such transactions as not only newsworthy, but positively scandalous. If the man happens to be some sort of official, it’s even worse:
An undercover FBI agent has been accused in court documents of spending U.S. taxpayer dollars on prostitutes in the Philippines for himself and others during an international weapons trafficking probe last year…The agent, who wasn’t identified in court documents, paid up to $2,400 each time he went to brothels with [Sergio] Syjuco and [two] other [Filipinos] to reward them for their work…[Syjuco and the others are charged with conspiracy and face up to 20 years in prison.] “I have never seen anything like this during my career as a criminal defense lawyer,” [public defender John] Littrell [said]…”I hope that the Department of Justice takes these allegations seriously, does a complete investigation, and ensures that whoever authorized this outrageous misconduct is held accountable”…federal prosecutors acknowledged in court documents that the agent sought nearly $15,000 in reimbursements for “entertainment” and other expenses related to the investigation…
Let’s get one thing out of the way right now: Littrell is totally full of shit, unless by “anything like this” he means operatives being prosecuted for standard operating procedure. Because that’s what this is: standard. Typical. Mundane. Par for the course. Business as usual. What’s more, it has to be that way; human beings are not machines, and they need to eat, drink, bathe, sleep and relax. So if you run an organization which requires its employees to travel, you had better pay for those things when they travel on your business or else you’ll soon find that nobody wants to go on business trips for you. And really, why should they? If it weren’t for you they’d be home spending their time as they like, so it’s only right that you pay for their upkeep while they’re there. Nor is it any of your concern if they spend the money on hookers rather than overpriced dinners; as long as the per diem is the same, why should you care whether the employee spends it at a restaurant, a movie theater, a bookstore or a brothel as long as he’s happy and productive?
By now some of you are saying, “but this wasn’t a case of the agent spending his designated food money on hookers; he was entertaining other people as a reward.” That’s true, but it’s actually no different. The per diem is, in a way, a bribe or reward for travel; it’s always more than is strictly necessary for survival. In other words, it’s money the employer spends to get people to do what he wants them to do, and expense accounts are the same thing except that the people being rewarded are contractors, associates, customers, etc. As I explained in “Perquisites”, “the employee is allowed considerable leeway in spending at restaurants, clubs and other entertainment venues because it is recognized that a little wining and dining goes a long way toward winning customers (and that includes politicians being wooed by lobbyists). In other words, a few hundred dollars worth of food and entertainment can result in many thousands or even millions in business.” It’s no different for government agents; the FBI asked Syjuco and the other Filipinos to do hard, dangerous work dealing with gangsters as part of a weapons “sting”. People don’t do that sort of thing for free, and if taking them out for a good time at a brothel was the way to accomplish it, then how is that different from any other bribe?
Personally, I don’t think the government should be bankrolling elaborate and expensive deceptions designed to trick and bribe foreign nationals into smuggling, nor conducting the barbaric and mindlessly-wasteful “War on Drugs” which creates the drug cartels that drive the vast majority of weapon smuggling in the Western Hemisphere in the first place. But none of that is the source of the outrage; the prosecutors and the media aren’t questioning the morality of the Drug War, that of entrapping people or that of allowing US officials to engage in covert operations in sovereign foreign countries. No, what they’re so incensed about is “spending U.S. taxpayer dollars on prostitutes”, and no amount of inane “human trafficking” rhetoric can make that anything other than moralistic micromanagement. Well, if you’re inclined to sympathize with these hysterics I’ve got news for you: plenty of U.S. taxpayer dollars go into the purses of prostitutes every year; I myself probably banked somewhere in the six figures of such funds over the course of my career. There’s only one way to stop it: shrink the damned government down to a manageable number of employees, entirely eliminate the use of expense accounts and cut out any travel requirement for any government job. Good luck accomplishing that.