Sunday, February 24, 2008

Unabashed Prejudice at The Times

Tibor R. Machan

These matters tend to show up without much fanfare but that’s exactly what makes them interesting and significant. When Eleanor Randolph of The New York Times wrote these lines [Sunday, 2/24/08], I am sure she was being quite unselfconscious. It was simple common sense to her to say, as she wrote about the program “Law & Order”--which she and I both seem to have watched from its inception--that these shows “elevate Sam Waterston to his ethical pedestal, even though he appears elsewhere pitching investments.”

Notice that as a fictional make-believe Assistant District Attorney--and now the DA himself--Waterston’s ethics are deemed impeccable. But as an actually pitchman for investment services provided by TD Waterhouse he is besmirched. “Even though” this is what he does both for part of his living and in service to millions who are seeking to place their money with a trusted outfit that will help them put it away for a rainy day! Why? What is morally, ethically not to applaud about Sam Waterston because he is making these pitches? What on earth is morally objectionable about advertising the services of TD Waterhouse or of any other legitimate enterprise?

Perhaps Ms. Randolph is upset with investment firms because they try to make people well off here in this world and she wants, like so many philosophers and theologians throughout human history, direct our attention to our spiritual selves and to the possibility of everlasting salvation earned through various measures of earthly asceticism. Nah, I don’t think so. Or perhaps she is just expressing a prevalent, unexamined prejudice in our culture in which, despite the concern about economic downturns, about poverty, about unemployment, the intelligentsia is scornful toward people in business. Kind of like the aristocracy had been about the nouveau riche because they dirtied their hands with productive work!

It is interesting that someone so closely linked to the liberal establishment in America would have no self awareness about her rank, irrational disdain for those who work in the financial community. This blindness, manifest here only as a casual throwaway line, has a serious impact on the health of the nation’s economy. For example, it fosters an atmosphere of disdain toward millions of young people who are considering entering the business professions. They are bombarded with the prejudice against their choice of career in TV programs, newspaper columns, movies, pulp fiction, popular music, and elsewhere and no righteous indignation is expressed by the mainstream moralizers in the country when it happens.

Apart from a few voices way outside the mainstream, politicians and others have no compunction about bashing business, denigrating people’s efforts to prosper, to make a profit in the market place, no. Attempting to thrive economically, while considered imperative for the country as a whole, is treated as a sin or some kind of lowly drive when exhibited by individuals.

Nevertheless, of course, most people, when they act on the basis of their personal common sense, show that prudence about their money is a decent, praiseworthy thing. They know well and good that seeking out good financial advice and acting on it are a wise course for them to take. They often stress such prudence as they raise their children. They frown upon recklessness in the market place by friends and neighbors.

Yet, somehow, they do not protest when pundits like Ms. Randolph and many, many others deride commerce and business. When a politician aligns himself or herself with those in the business world, if only to free up avenues for trade, he or she is derided for siding with “big business.” Never mind that it is such trade, carried out by those in the world of business that creates the jobs that keeps people off the unemployment lines, that makes it possible for them to provide for their needs and wants and dreams!

Isn’t it time that this kind of schizophrenia is abandoned, that the prejudice, the unjust discrimination against commerce and business is cast aside as nearly as insidious as racism and sexism?

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