I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’ve bribed people. I’ve bribed government officials and even elected politicians. I spent most of the 1990s working in the Russian metals trade, something about as corrupt as the more recent Ukrainian energy business, where Hunter Biden was collecting his checks.
One small difference would be that for me, a Brit, bribing foreigners back then was entirely legal. Another would be that back then, I was handing out the bribes, not something anyone’s even thought Hunter Biden was doing.
One time I handed over $10,000 inside the North Korean Embassy, another time, I brokered a $50,000 payment to the prime minister of one of the -stans. Again, for me, this was entirely legal. British law back then assumed that this is just what foreigners do, so as long as you do it in foreign lands, why not? Even on a tax form, such payments were deductible and you said what they were on that document too.
I say this not to boast, nor confess, but rather to point out my experience in the world of the corrupt. I don’t have personal insight into what Hunter Biden got Joe Biden to do, or not to do, or even whether the two discussed matters in any way, shape, or form (I certainly have suspicions just like everyone else, but that’s all they are). What I do know, though, is why Hunter Biden got those luscious jobs that he wasn’t qualified for, whether it was his venture capital work in China or board positions in Ukraine.
Whether or not it worked, the people handing over the money thought they were buying Joe Biden’s attention. That’s why Hunter Biden got those jobs. In effect, he wasn’t the customer, or the employee, or the board member — he was the product.
This is just how that part of the world worked, and in parts still does work. Family members of important people are brought on as employees or on to the board in order to gain access to important people. It’s possible to think that Hunter was ever so slightly sleazy in his actions (me too, to be sure) but don’t think that either of us was too stupid to know what we were doing.
Now, we can go on to ponder how much this changed U.S. policy at a time that Joe Biden was running the Obama administration’s Ukraine policy and wonder whether being in a venture-capital relationship with the Chinese government is quite and wholly unremarkable. No doubt, we’ll all take politically partisan positions on either side of those questions.
But we do need to recognize the reality here: The people buying Hunter Biden’s “business acumen” were doing so because he was the son of a long-sitting senator and then the vice president. That’s just what such people in such places pay said money for, political influence. Hunter was retailing that dream of what people wanted to buy, whether he came through or not.
Given my admission up above, we could say that the two situations are morally equivalent. I’d make what I consider to be an important distinction, though. While I was entirely happy to bribe foreigners because, you know, things in foreign countries are different, I’d be shocked and upset to be offered one and never have accepted one. But then, I have no political or family influence to peddle, which means I’m not really in the marketplace anyway.
If all that moral prevarication doesn’t quite suit, then we can collapse this all down to a simpler question. Hunter Biden doesn’t and didn’t have any relevant skills or qualifications for these various jobs and contracts, other than who his father is. So, if that’s not what he was selling, even if it was just the dream rather than the reality on sale, then what was it that was being retailed in this manner?
Tim Worstall (@worstall) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a senior fellow at the Adam Smith Institute. You can read all his pieces at the Continental Telegraph.
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