Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Column on Government Favors

Who Do You Blame For Favors?

Tibor R. Machan

It is one of Ralph Nader's ongoing complaints about American corporations
that they control the American government. A great many on the Left share
this view and so badmouth corporate commerce endlessly. Business
corporations are supposed to possess their enormous control over
government by means of infusing huge sums of money into campaigns, as well
as by doing all kinds of other very expensive favors for politicians. By
getting very chummy with government, corporate managers secure for
themselves lasting friends in most administrations and succeed at
influencing legislation and regulation. Mr. Nader thinks that it is this
process that accounts for most of the ills of our society.

And to a large extent he is right. Anytime some groups of citizens,
especially those with tremendous resources, get up close and personal to
politicians, the standard of equal protection under the law for all of us
is bound to be violated throughout the society. That corporations are more
successful at this than, say, artists--although the latter do manage to
obtain a pretty good share of support--is not mysterious. Business
corporations are economic units brought about by millions of people coming
together and entrusting their wealth to managers of businesses in the hope
that they will prosper from this, which certainly is a good and
unobjectionable idea. When these managers approach government so as to
gain special favors, clearly the system has become corrupted. But who is
to be blamed for this, who is doing something wrong?

Ordinarily if someone tries to bribe a judge or police officer and
succeeds, the major fault lies with these officers of the law. They are
sworn to remain impartial, fair, objective and are supposed to refuse
point blank any efforts to undermine these character and professional
traits that are necessary to the performance of their duties. Sure, trying
to bribe them is a bad thing but taking the bribe is far worse.

Suppose, however, that judges and police officers are officially on record
inviting bribes from people in whose cases they are involved. Suppose the
system, as in the case with those of many foreign countries, is frankly
and unabashedly open to pay-offs and influence peddling. Now those who
approach officials in such a system with more or less successful efforts
to gain favors certainly could not be blamed. It is the system that would
be at fault, and indeed often is throughout the globe. And so it is with
corporate influence on the American legal and political system.

The original idea of the American founders was that governments are
instituted among us to secure our rights. Yet certain provisions of the US
Constitution opened the door to distract government from this proper
task--consider how the First Amendment talks of how we may all approach
government with our grievances, which has come to be interpreted as an
invitation to lobby government for favors. The powers of governments, too,
have departed from those just powers that a government may gain through
the consent of the governed. Instead governments meddle in all sorts of
affairs, especially economic ones, by means of, say, the interstate
commerce clause of Article I, Section 8 of the federal Constitution.

Once a system of law is so corrupted, it is like umpires or referees
opening themselves to influence by players and racers in sports. If they
get the message that it is all right to do so, it is rather curious to
blame them for it. Yes, influencing umpires and referees corrupts the
game but it is the system that makes this possible that's responsible, not
those who take advantage of it. At some point refusing to do so can become

That is just how many business corporations look at the American legal
system: It openly invites them to exert as much influence as possible and
not pitching in can actually amount to professional malpractice under the
prevailing circumstances.

Ralph Nader & his pals on the Left ought to devote themselves not to
business bashing but to
reforming the government so it operates along lines we demand of honest
judges and cops, to not play favorites and to have a system of laws that
makes playing favorites outright impossible, illegal. But then, of course,
he wouldn't have a change to lobby for his own pet projects either and
that is what he really seems to want to do, not clean up the system.

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