Thoughts on Our Faucian Bargain

How much money does the federal government have? 

None. 

All those trillions of dollars the government spends is our money. Government has just appropriated it. 

The founders knew all about this process, and they abominated it. 

But as Christopher Marlowe put it in another context, “that was in another country, and besides, the wench is dead.” 

Over the years, I have several times written about the invaluable work Open the Books has done in exposing the corrupt, self-serving, nepotistic, unaccountable leviathan that is government bureaucracy. Ever since its founding in 2011, the organization has been like Jacob wrestling with the angel, struggling to bring transparency to the fetid, self-engorging swamp that our government, colonized by bureaucracy, has become. “Every Dime. Online. In Real Time.” Their motto is as neatly expressed as it is difficult to achieve. 

Open the Books has publicized outrageous taxpayer-funded pensions, lavish government subsidies to super-rich Ivy league colleges, and eye-popping public employee salaries. Every revelation is wrenched from the clenched fists of government bureaucracies whose byword, like that of the mafia, is “omertà,” silence. 

Perhaps their most damaging report was released just last week. Open the Books teamed up with Judicial Watch, another invaluable public-spirited watchdog, to mount a lawsuit against the National Institutes of Health in order to prise loose information about the millions and millions of dollars the organization has received from third-parties (that would be Big Pharma) and distributed to its scientists and administrators.

The last time the NIH was forced to disgorge such information was back in 2005 in response to a Freedom of Information demand filed by the Associated Press. 

The NIH, of course, is the preferred playground of Anthony Fauci, publicity hound and COVID scold par excellence. Fauci, as has been noted many times at American Greatness, is the highest paid federal employee. In 2021, his taxpayer-funded salary alone was $456,028. That’s $56,028 more than the salary of the president of the United States. (“But the president is Joe Biden,” you object. I point out that we’re talking about the office, not the man.)

Anthony Fauci has been a fixture in the public health establishment for decades. There he was during the AIDS crisis, warning that you might catch the disease from sitting next to someone who had it, and grimly raising the specter of “heterosexual AIDS.”

And there he was day-in and day-out at press briefings at the White House in 2020 and 2021, fanning the flames of COVID hysteria, dispensing oracular and contradictory advice to a confused and terrified public. 

Now Adam Andrzejewski, founder and CEO of Open the Books, has begun to crack open the tenebrous chambers of Fauci’s NIH, revealing a hidden stream of $350 million in royalty payments paid to that government agency for distribution to those responsible for the $30 billion per annum now doled out in grants to the pharmaceutical industry. As Andrzejewski pointed out, that $30 billion in taxpayer money buys a lot of warm and fuzzy feelings among its recipients. The money, Open the Books discovered, flowed both ways. “We estimate that between fiscal years 2010 and 2020, more than $350 million in royalties were paid by third-parties to the agency and NIH scientists,” Andrzejewski wrote. “Because those payments enrich the agency and its scientists, each and every royalty payment could be a potential conflict of interest and needs disclosure.” 

Indeed. But so far, we really don’t know the extent of the boondoggle. The NIH admits to having some 3,000 pages itemizing royalty payments since 2009. So far, Open the Books has managed to prevail upon the organization to disgorge only 1,800 pages from that trove. And wouldn’t you know it, those pages are heavily redacted, omitting the amounts of the payments and identity of the parties. In other words, “NIH is essentially telling you, the taxpayer, to pay up and shut up. They’ll run things. They have forgotten that they work on behalf of the American people.”

That describes the attitude of “our” government to a T. It’s a Ring Lardner moment, as in that brilliant riposte from The Young Immigrunts: “‘Shut up,’ he explained.” 

Anthony Fauci has receded a bit from the public stage. I hope that the investigations of Open the Books will bring him back, this time playing a role more suited to his lifetime of baneful actions. As we continue to tot up the misery, death, and financial ruination caused by Fauci’s horrible advice about how to deal with COVID, it will be some small and inadequate, though still gratifying, recompense were his decades of pocket-lining be subject to public scrutiny and, if we are lucky, legal penalty.  

Some people say that the unprecedented nature of the COVID epidemic justified the lockdowns, mask mandates, travel restrictions, and interdictions against normal social intercourse. But the epidemic wasn’t really unprecedented. It was always clear that this respiratory virus, like all such maladies, would follow Farr’s law and follow a bell-shaped progression. “Our panic,” I noted in this space back in April of 2020, “has destroyed trillions of dollars of wealth, impoverished millions, and handed much of society over to the machinations of socialistically inclined bureaucrats. It has also precipitated a huge and irresponsible disgorging of federal funds, the baneful effects of which will be felt for decades if not generations.” Moreover, there was already authoritative epidemiological analysis that proffered far better advice than what Fauci imposed on the American people. 

The Brownstone Institute recently publicized a 2006 paper by Donald Henderson, the man who led the successful effort to eradicate smallpox, and two colleagues called “Disease Mitigation Measures in the Control of Pandemic Influenza.” In this paper, Henderson and his colleagues consider all the usual responses to epidemics, from hand-washing and “respiratory etiquette” to large-scale quarantining, travel restrictions, prohibition of social gatherings, school closures, and mask mandates. Were any or all of these state-mandated interventions effective or justified? The basic answer is no, none is either effective or justified. 

Noting the “significant disruption” to the social functioning and economic vitality of communities that such prohibitions would entail, Henderson and his colleagues acknowledge that such a price might be worth it “if there were compelling evidence or reason to believe they would seriously diminish the consequences or spread of a pandemic.” But there isn’t. At the end of the day, they conclude, “we must ask whether any or all of the proposed measures are epidemiologically sound, logistically feasible, and politically viable. It is also critically important to consider possible secondary social and economic impacts of various mitigation measures.” 

It’s a pity Donald Trump and his team did not consult Henderson’s work when COVID first reared its ugly head. They could have saved the country, and indeed the world, from much misery, not to mention Trump’s electoral prospects. They could also have saved the country from that other misery of listening to Anthony Fauci emit his poisonous advice. That would have been a blessing. But it would not not have done a thing to make the investigation into corruption at the NIH less pertinent. Kudos to Open the Books. 

About Roger Kimball

Roger Kimball is editor and publisher of The New Criterion and the president and publisher of Encounter Books. He is the author and editor of many books, including The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia (St. Augustine's Press), The Rape of the Masters (Encounter), Lives of the Mind: The Use and Abuse of Intelligence from Hegel to Wodehouse (Ivan R. Dee), and Art's Prospect: The Challenge of Tradition in an Age of Celebrity (Ivan R. Dee).

Photo: Shawn Thew-Pool/Getty Images

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