Rebirth of Reason


Machan's Musings - Whom Do You Blame For Favors?
by Tibor R. Machan

One of Ralph Nader's ongoing complaints about American corporations is that they control the American government. A great many on the left share this view, and so badmouth corporate commerce endlessly. Business corporations are alleged to possess their enormous control over government by means of infusing huge sums of money into political campaigns, as well as 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 this process 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 no mystery. 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. This is certainly 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, and objective, and are supposed to refuse outright any efforts to undermine these character and professional traits, which are necessary for 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 is the case with many foreign countries, is frankly and unabashedly open to payoffs and influence peddling. Now those who approach officials in such a system with more or less successful efforts to gain favors certainly cannot be blamed. It is the system that is 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 U.S. Constitution opened the door for government to become distracted from this proper task—consider how the First Amendment mentions that we may 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, justified by reference to the interstate commerce clause of Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution.  

Once a system of law is so corrupted, it is like umpires or referees opening themselves to influence by competitors 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 responsibility must be assigned to the system that makes this possible, not to those who take advantage of it. At some point, refusing to do so can become suicidal.  

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 ought to devote himself 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 and illegal. But then, of course, he wouldn't have a chance to lobby for his own pet projects either ... and that is what he really seems to want to do.
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