How bad a problem is presidential corruption?

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here are parts of my analysis:

The upshot is that the possibility of conflict of interest will impose the biggest problems for those areas where a president’s legitimacy and credibility are most important, and also where the president has the most unilateral power. Those factors point to foreign policy as the most significant trouble area.

Domestic corruption is wrong, but I find it less worrying in practical terms, for instance:

Or consider the value of domestic property as a potential source of conflict of interest. If Trump really put the value of his hotel properties before the national interest, that might encourage a lot of policies to foster urban growth, travel, and tourism. Those policies might not spread their benefits efficiently, but they are hardly the worst outcome imaginable. A lot of the most scathing critiques of Trump refer to his proposed climate-change policies, but those seemed common to most of the other Republican candidates, and they are not a result of Trump’s particular asset holdings.

On the other hand:

But when it comes to foreign policy, all of these factors change for the worse, in part because the president has so much unilateral power. It’s hard for a president with perceived conflicts of interest to make credible commitments to allies because the allies can’t be confident that a president will stick to a proposed agreement or course of action. The result is an unraveling of alliances, a decline in international trust and possibly dangerous rearmament and nuclear proliferation. It’s hard for a subsequent president to reverse those losses.

Hostile powers or lukewarm neutrals also will be confused if foreign policy is not run in the usual predictable, bureaucratized fashion. That raises the risk of conflict or it makes an amelioration of tensions less likely.

Furthermore, imagine what would happen if members of the executive branch invited direct or indirect bribe payments from foreign powers. Large, corrupt, and partially hostile countries such as Russia and China – not Denmark – would probably make the biggest offerings.

Overall I find I am seeing too many “theory free” criticisms of Trump on the corruption issue.  Do read the whole thing.


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