Ethics Absent: A Grand Unified Theory of Political Scandal?

Yesterday three stories dominated my Twitter feed.

The first was the news that the Government of Malaysia had employed a conservative writer of my acquaintance, Joshua “Tacitus” Trevino, to write stories (or subcontract out to others) favourable to the Malay government and/or critical of opposition [and pro-democracy] figures. And that he did, failing to disclose to the publications he wrote for that he was operating as a marketer rather than as a journalist. Failing to register too, with the US government that he was serving as a foreign agent (ie. someone in the employ of a foreign government) – a serious offence that could lead to jail time (they allowed him to retroactively register to his great good fortune). He even lied when confronted by another journalist.

His tweets after the story broke indicate a lack of remorse. Or an awareness he had betrayed his [extreme] conservative values by advancing the interests of a repressive [and Islamic!] government. The only thing wrong, to Mr. Trevino, was that he got caught.

The second was the continuing fallout of Tom “Conservative Godfather” Flanagan.

He demonstrates the fundamental flaw in libertarian thinking with his involuntary reductio ad absurdum. Let the marketplace decide, goes the mantra, but there are markets that simply should not be created, and child porn is obviously one of them.

“Obviously?” Not, it seems, to an ideologue like Flanagan. As Michael Harris asks, where does he think child porn comes from? It’s just pictures, right? The radical immorality at the heart of libertarianism is brutally revealed.”

The last is closer to home – the “ethnic-gate” scandal, which continues to unfold. Now the ethically challenged nature of the B.C. Liberal government is well-documented but what is interesting is the reaction by the Vancouver Sun’s editor Fazil Mihlar which is, more or less, there is no wrong-doing here.

I will outsource to Ian Reid that appropriate response to Mr. Mihlar’s lack of understanding of the law, the rules that govern the B.C. civil service and ethics in general.

But it really struck me that these three stories are related and are rooted in a certain strain of conservatism. You can add in the foibles of the federal Conservatives too – Bruce Carson, Dean Del Maestro, Tony Clement, the F-35 affair.

They all display a similar set of ethics. A set of ethics that stands apart from the traditional maintream understanding of what ethics means.

And I am beginning to believe there is a sort of grand unified theory out there that explains it all. I can’t really express it coherently yet, but I don’t really think it’s “mere corruption”. The philosophy of Ayn Rand plays an important part and it’s view that it’s the market and not the state or society that determines morality and ethics. Whether any of the figures mentioned above are direct devotees of Rand or not, her ideas have infected modern conservatism and modern conservative political parties. Certainly, in this country, through the Fraser Institute and certainly through the “Calgary School.”

UPDATE: Paul Krugman

Think Tank’s Ideas Shifted As Malaysian Ties Grew:

For years, the Heritage Foundation sharply criticized the autocratic rule of former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, denouncing his anti-Semitism, his jailing of political opponents and his “anti-free market currency controls.”

Then, late in the summer of 2001, the conservative nonprofit Washington think tank began to change its assessment …

Heritage’s new, pro-Malaysian outlook emerged at the same time a Hong Kong consulting firm co-founded by Edwin J. Feulner, Heritage’s president, began representing Malaysian business interests. The for-profit firm, called Belle Haven Consultants, retains Feulner’s wife, Linda Feulner, as a “senior adviser.” And Belle Haven’s chief operating officer, Ken Sheffer, is the former head of Heritage’s Asia office and is still on Heritage’s payroll as a $75,000-a-year consultant.


It seems that some years ago Malaysia’s ruling party took a good look at leading pundits and policy intellectuals in the conservative movement, reached a judgment about their personal and intellectual integrity or lack thereof, and acted in accordance with that judgment.

The market at work in the fields of morality.