Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Objectivist Aristocracy

Thom Hartmann has an Objectivist on just about every day to argue.

Often I hear him get Objectivists to admit to beliefs that I and I would guess most other Americans would find objectively objectionable, but which makes perfect sense for his guest. For instance, that there should be a small group of super wealthy people who use their wealth and power to force out or buy out any competition as this is beneficial for everyone, including the poor people who can never become even moderately wealthy because they're locked out of competition by the super wealthy and powerful. Monopolies keep prices low so poor powerless people can afford the cheap, unhealthy crap that's forced on them.

I only caught a bit of today's argument, but heard the end when he was talking to a member of the Ayn Rand Institute about some company's bankruptcy and whether that's a reason for government regulation of business. Thom asked, "Do you think it's acceptable for a company to have government protection in the form of bankruptcy, but it's not acceptable for the government to regulate the behavior of a company that might lead to bankruptcy." The answer was yes, government protection is okay while government regulation isn't as bankruptcy is a contractual issue.

Huh?

I wasn't ever aware of signing a contract with corporations telling them it was okay for them to use my investment money to line foreign bank vaults, reupholster yachts, bribe public officials, drive the company into the ground with horrid mismanagement and then have the government protect them from me being able to force them to sell their multi-million dollar mansions paid for with ill-gotten gains to repay at least a portion of my retirement fund.

What government regulation of business comes down to is an enforcement of basic laws such as against theft and murder. Willfully mismanaging funds and using business practices which cheat people is theft. Selling products or emitting pollutants which poison or otherwise physically harm people and lead to their early demise is murder. At very least it's an assault.

So even if I did sign a contract allowing corporations to do these things, the basic illegal acts makes the contract void.

It's just stupid and unworkable to believe that government should protect a certain class of people (corporate officers) in their illegal acts just because they do "business." How's this for an argument in favor of protecting business: "When the deceased came to my client asking for a loan, my client made it clear what would happen to him if he didn't repay. It wasn't personal, it was business, therefore the government must protect the interests of my client."

What that amounts to is the institution of an aristocracy that lives by different laws. From what I glean from Objectivism, it is the belief that there is a class of people that is inherently better than everyone else, the manifestation of this superiority being economic wealth and consequently political power. It apparently doesn't matter what people do to gain wealth; there is no such thing as unethical business practices, and as the guest on Thom Hartmann's show clearly stated, the magical mantle of business should be protection against any consequences for illegal behavior. The greatest crime seems to be the suggestion that poor and powerless people who will be kept poor and powerless by the Business Aegis should band together to claim more power for themselves.

But the government we Americans have instituted is based on the notion of inherent equality before the law. If it's illegal for me to do it, then it doesn't become legal simply because I label myself a part of an elite cadre.

One may argue that the government has no responsibility to provide for anyone, such as with social programs. But what the Objectivist guest was championing by claiming a one-sided role of government when it comes to business is the reinstitution of the Samurai and Feudal lords, of the aristocracy, of the idea that there is one law for the elite and another for the rabble.

Government (that being an institution that we Americans created for the protection of all Americans) has the right and responsibility to regulate behavior at all levels, including business.

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