This is a rangy, passionate, erudite and ultimately tragic screed, envisioning a cross-sectoral “ecosystem of lawlessness”; of politics captured by corporate wealth. Although Mueller’s whistleblowers highlight such systemic corruption, they rarely halt the malfeasance in their industries. Allen Jones, one of the most successful whistleblowers, is left with “a bitter sense of justice denied”; feeling that the world is itself broken, corrupt and rigged.
Mueller is at his best when he describes the culture of impunity in Washington, DC, and in certain of the 50 state capitals, which allows so much taxpayer money to be misused or stolen. ‘In 2018,’ he writes, ‘federal, state and local government distributed about $7 trillion in healthcare, defence, education and other industries.’ According to Mueller, rare is the politician (Iowa Senator Charles Grassley is cited as one notable example) who tries to ensure that congressional funds are spent economically and honestly. As public expenditures have grown, the author explains, so has the ‘share of public work being performed by private corporations, which creates sweeping conflicts of interest and undercuts the basic conception of public service’.
Another reason for their marginal presence is suggested in Tom Mueller’s expansive study of the subject, Crisis of Conscience: Whistleblowing in an Age of Fraud. “Many people who blow the whistle are able to do so precisely because they are not like most of us, or how we’re told to be,” writes Mueller. “They’re not ‘team players’, not ‘go along to get along’ personalities. They can be prickly and doctrinaire. They can seem obsessive, even unstable.”