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Rant #89
(published Mid-year, 2002)
The Problem of Communism; or Why It's Bad To Have an MBA as President
by J.E.C.
I remember first hearing the word "Communism" when I was a kid just learning about the world. My dad was explaining to me why the United States didn't like the USSR. "Because they're Communist." He said. Oh. What's Communism? "That's when the government controls all the businesses." Okay. Why's that bad? "Because then if you want to open a hardware store, you can't, because the government is the only one allowed to sell hardware. And if you don't like your boss, you can't go anywhere else, because the government owns everything." That didn't seem fair. So Communism was good and being American was good, because in America you could open your own hardware store if you wanted to, and the government wouldn't do anything about it. In America, there was a separation between the people who built cars and the people who passed laws.

At least, that's the way it used to be. But (and I hate to bring this up) lately, doesn't it seem as though the difference between presidents and businessmen is disappearing? Doesn't it seem as though the government has been passing a lot of laws meant to make businesses very wealthy at the expense of the health of the workforce? Doesn't it seem as though in a couple years, if the government doesn't own all the businesses, all the businesses will soon own the government?

Now, it's not like there's ever been any hard and fast division between politicians and industry. It's not like we've ever had a poor president. But dear God, the present administration has more control over the means of production than any that have come before it. Sure, if you're in the Executive Branch you're supposed to divest yourself of all financial holdings while you're in office but really, does anyone here believe Cheney's cut all ties with the oil and defense industry? Don't you think maybe, maybe the reason the Secretary of the Army was pushing for the incredibly expensive and obsolete Crusader artillery system was because he stood to make a pretty penny off of it? Don't forget, this is the same person who neglected to sell off his Enron holdings until a few weeks before the stock price started heading south.

"But," you may say, "so what?" So what if there's not much separation between government and industry? So what if the head of the SEC is a lawyer for an accounting firm? That's not really communism, is it? Why should we really care if our countries leaders stand to make massive amounts of money from their decisions?

We should care for this reason: some of the worst abuses of power in the USSR came from party politicos using government-owned businesses for their own ends. The government didn't care if, say, the state-owned chemical plant was dumping PCP in the Volga River. If your boss at the state-owned news agency was collecting kickbacks from you, you couldn't go to attorney general. So now ask yourself, if you are an employee of Enron, if you think a government of ex-Enron cronies is going to care if your bosses committed fraud.

A republic is built on a system of checks and balances: a legislative branch to pass laws, and an executive branch to enforce them. But this administration has demonstrated its unwillingness to enforce anything with even a vaguely negative effect on businesses. One defense of Clinton-era environmental regulations was so willfully weak that the judges actually quoted the defense as support for their finding for the industry plaintiffs. Who's going to act as a check and balance against the might of industry? Not this administration; its services have already been paid for.

And so do we find ourselves inching toward a sort of reversed communism, a nation with a monopoly in every sector. For all the leeway some of these companies are getting, Enron, Microsoft, and Andersen might as well be state-owned.

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