This is the essay for lessons 76-80 in the Autobiographies course from the Ronpaul curriculum. In this blog post, I will be covering the question: Why was Plunkitt so open about how he made his money?
George Washington Plunkitt was a politician in New York during the late 19th- and early 20th centuries. Plunkitt made an autobiography about his political career. One thing he made very clear was the way he made his money. The very first chapter of the autobiography was about it. This means it has to be important because the first chapter of a book determines if the reader gets hooked and keeps on reading or puts the book away and forgets about it.
In the first chapter, Plunkitt said that he earned his money by honest graft, not dishonest graft. Plunkitt defined dishonest graft as stealing, gambling or blackmailing. He said that the people who did use dishonest graft were his opponents who were the republican reformers. Plunkitt said that honest graft is just waiting for opportunities and taking them. What he means is that he gets insider information about some new project that is going to happen. Then Plunkitt buys cheap pieces of land that the project needs and sells them for a much higher price when the project buys the pieces of land. This is a lot like what speculators do in the free market. They think something is going to go up in price so they buy it. If it’s successful they sell it for a higher price, but if it’s unsuccessful, they lose their money. The difference between speculators and Plunkitt is that Plunkitt isn’t doing it on the free market, he’s doing it in politics. In politics, it is illegal to have such inside information. One of Plunkitt’s arguments toward honest graft was that it benefitted everybody, not only him. While dishonest graft was wholly self-centered. Whether honest graft should be illegal is up to you to decide.
The question is why Plunkitt was so open with how he earned his money? I have a theory of why Plunkitt would do that. One point is that Plunkitt wanted to show the people in his district that he wasn’t doing anything wrong, he was just finding opportunities and taking them. This is supported by the fact that a few years before the autobiography was published, Plunkitt lost an election. Plunkitt thought that the reason he lost the election was that people thought he was practicing dishonest graft. Plunkitt believed this was because they didn’t see the difference between honest- and dishonest graft, so he had to make the difference clear to them.
Plunkitt also wanted to show how his opponents were the ones practicing dishonest graft. This links into the second major point in the autobiography, his hate against the civil service reform. His opponents, the republican reformers were the ones who in favour of the civil service reform. Plunkitt probably thought that if he could show the people in his district that the people who practiced dishonest graft were the same ones who were in favour of the civil service reform, that the people would realize that the civil service reform was just as bad as dishonest graft.