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The Hidden (and not so hidden) Cost of Corruption in Cook County

By       Message Tom Tresser     Permalink
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Corruption in Illinois has been the subject of exposes, satire and jokes for decades.

Here's a popular story that seems to be everywhere on the Internet.

I was in court the other day at a political corruption trial, the prosecuting attorney attacked a witness. "Isn't it true," he shouted, "that you accepted five thousand dollars to compromise this case?" The witness stared out the window, as though he hadn't hear the question. The prosecutor repeated, "Isn't it true that you accepted five thousand dollars to compromise this case?" The witness still did not respond. Finally, the judge leaned over and said, "Sir, please answer the question." "Oh," the startled witness said, "I thought he was talking to you."

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When our most recent governor was arrested for corruption, it was like an early Christmas for the late night comedy writers. Here's one comment from Letterman:

"But did you hear about this guy? Blagojevich is charged with corruption and apparently he was stealing a lot of money, getting a lot of bribes and kickbacks and hiding them in his hair."

We got a million of them.

What's NOT so funny is the costs behind the scandal headlines headlines like these from just a day ago:

"KEY ZONING OFFICIAL QUITS AMID PROBE"- but the unqualified guy he put in place is still there earning $69,000/year.

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"CHICAGO A MODEL TO AVOID" (referring to the parking meter deal) and

"THE AMERICAN DREAM ON TAX PAYER'S DIME" Cook County employees getting federal subsidies to purchase homes improperly.

In my cluttered office I'm looking at several file folders of about a foot high. They are all about corruption and waste in local government just from the last three years. I have another stack of academic studies, civic group reports and Inspector General investigations that is also about one foot high.

So I guess the first cost of corruption I should count is my copying bill.

So much for the humorous introduction to a painful and ugly topic.

To my mind there are two kinds of corruption, one which is frequently cited and the second which is rarely mentioned.

The first and most commonly understood cost is the financial cost to the taxpayer for paying for poor or nonexistent services. This cost is expressed in dollars and can be calculated by adding up the many scandals and doing a little extrapolating.

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The second and harder to quantify cost is the cost in human lives an opportunity cost for the missed solutions, incompetent leadership and missed remedies to complicated problems.

Let's look at the easy subject first.

There are a few big buckets into which we can sort the financial costs of corruption:

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