1) Yesterday I "gently chided" Ezra Klein of the Washington Post for the Post's failure to publish a single word about the Orszag/Citigroup amakudari deal. Apart from Klein's blog, it still has not done so. This morning Klein has added his thoughts on the rights and wrongs of the situation, which differ from mine but which I encourage you to read.
2) A number of people who read only my second item on the topic have written in, often huffily, to ask (a) how dare I say that Orszag himself was corrupt or rule-breaking? and (b) well, what else could he have done? I tried in this first post to address both those questions directly. Summary: the revolving-door problem is a "structural rather than personal" phenomenon; and conceivably there are places to work, for good pay, other than a firm the Administration is being criticized for having bailed out.
3) In the previous post, I quoted a law student who criticized my criticism, on grounds such as "If someone can make five times more money, especially in our uncertain economic climate, how can you fault them?" Many, many readers disagreed. Let me start with a few replies from people in the military world, which has its own revolving-door problems. First, from a current Defense Department employee:
>>I'm not sure whether your law student defending Orszag's move is utterly naïve or duplicitous. I have no doubt Mr. Orszag is a very bright fellow, but would he be worth nearly so much to Citibank if he had the same smarts but lacked friends in the White House and senior leadership in Congress? As someone in the defense establishment, I'm quite familiar with how this works in the military-industrial sector. Trust me, when a defense contractor or consulting firm hires a retired General at a very high salary, most of that salary is for access and contacts, not for raw talent and technical knowledge.
Does this have any corrupting influence? At a small scale, I've seen military educational institutions spend half a million dollars on half-baked curriculum ideas or technologies pitched by senior retired officers and sold entirely on the basis of their friendship with current institutional leaders, where well-developed initiatives by PhD faculty costing 1/10th that get nowhere. At a large scale, how about the case of Darleen Druyun, the USAF procurement official who illegally assisted Boeing's bid to sell a tanker to the Air Force, explicitly in exchange for a high-paying Boeing job when she left the Pentagon right after the bid. Your law student "can't see any evidence" that future job prospects influence public employee behavior? The Druyun case didn't just smell corrupt, it was go-to-prison corrupt! For every Druyun who gets caught when Congress investigates a high-profile case, several others go uncaught. Many more avoid direct quid-pro-quos but know full well that if they "take good care" of contractor X, that X will offer them a very cushy job post-retirement.
Certainly that logic affects Congressional staffers too; I've heard it's becoming increasingly common for people to seek Congressional staff jobs precisely because they see such jobs as a stepping stone to high-paid work with lobbying firms. If we look at what K-street law firms pay their staff, I'm willing to predict salaries bear a much stronger correlation to the importance of someone's former boss on the Hill than to LSAT scores or law school grades.<<
Now, from a naval veteran:
>>I know that you disagree with the student but allow me to point out the most depressing part of his argument "If someone can make five times more money, especially in our uncertain economic climate, how can you fault them? ". It would seem that our student somehow has the impression that the money involved is the most important consideration. There is no thought as to the honorable course of action.
Early in my naval career (and I've got to hope even before) we were taught to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. The standard to review your actions was how was this going to look in the papers, how would the average person view this. The writer mentions retired military personnel sitting on boards. That is just as wrong in my view. Again we're up against the pack mentality that says everyone is doing it so it must be okay, or it's legal so it must be alright (or even my lawyer has advised me as to its legality). When we have to split hairs to see if an action is correct we've started down a slippery slope and unfortunately it would seem that many (or even most) don't even recognize that they are on an incline.<<
A few more after the jump.