Big Government or Big Business

The perfect day. A sunny September in Tennessee, a group of energized Young Democrats, a delicious lunch and Garrison Keillor on the ride home. The event was the Southern Conference of Young Democrats and I was there to pitch a dream, Draft Gore. Driving home from Chattanooga through the soft rain, an idea of David Keith kept turning in my brain—"you are going to have one or the other—big government or big business."

David Keith is a loyal Tennessean, orange to the heart, who can be observed frequently on the sidelines cheering his beloved Volunteers. He is also an actor with a list of credits stretching out the door. He has bumped into just about everybody who's anybody in film from Robert Redford to Robert Duvall. He is probably best remembered as Richard Gere's suicidal boot-camp buddy in An Officer and a Gentleman (1982). At the luncheon in Chattanooga, Mr. Keith changed my mind about actors and intelligent political thought. He gave one of the most inspiring "get out the vote" speeches I have heard in quite some time. Woven in among the threads of party loyalty and pride was the following controversial idea: "There are those who believe that commerce is the fairest and best arbiter of public policy, but Enron shows otherwise. We only have two choices in this country—big government or big business. You are going to have one or the other. Personally, I’d rather have big government because at least I have an opportunity to vote them out."

Hmmm. As they say down here in the South, "Let me study on that for a spell," and I did for most of the way home. Is it really one or the other? Is supply and demand the best referee in the game of governing? To hear capitalist dogma, you would believe so. "Keep government out, let the free market system run its course and the world will be a better place." Their world, perhaps, but history tells another story. The Gilded Age rested on the soot filled lungs of bone weary workers. You only have to read Mathew Josephson’s classic work, The Robber Barons to have misgivings about government by quarterly earnings. In a review of The Robber Barons, a reader tendered the following irony, "But remember, even the most admirable Barons also bribed politicians, abused their workers, and cheated ordinary investors by manipulating their own stock. Many of their actions would be illegal today."

Wealth run unrestrained has a kudzu affect on the welfare of those down below. For example, after the savings and loan industry was deregulated in 1982, 650 savings and loans capsized in a churning sea of fraud and greed. In 1984, cable TV rates soared after deregulation and between 1986 and 1990 the cost of basic service rose 56%--twice the rate of inflation. Capitalism is a plan of self-interest and only the most idealistic and self-serving among us would let it grow without regulation. And that is where big government comes in. Any successful nation must have a regulatory bicep strong enough to hold the vices of human avarice in check. I think it is one of the greatest ironies of this decade that the current administration promotes weaker, smaller unregulated government while at the same time embracing the Christian belief that Man is in the shackles of sin, a philosophy of one of its dominant constituencies, the evangelical right.

In the past, business abuses were curbed by the federal government in order to protect American workers and the environment. It should be remembered that the regulations as well as unions came after the abuses. A great deal of progress has been achieved due to governmental oversight and we have some of the safest working conditions in the world. It is also of interest to note that these protective regulations have not restrained healthy profits. Now, however, we are seeing a slow erosion of regulatory power by the federal government , and that erosion is giving big business new opportunities for abuse. It is also giving rise to a new political class of robber barons. Consider this example gleaned from Forbes Magazine ("Buying Justice", 7/21/03) and reviewed by Democracy N.C.: "Money Rolling In From Corporations As Chamber of Commerce Prepares for 2004."

"Under a new program, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is spending millions to oust judges who aren’t biased enough in favor of business interest. So far, it has won in 21 of 24 judicial elections in eight states—and prevailed in 11 attorney general races. As voters in 28 states prepare to elect more than 60 Supreme Court justices next year, the Chamber of Commerce says it will be there. Chamber President Thomas Donohue says the Chamber will be stepping up its court election campaigns: "We led. We succeeded. Now the money is rolling in from drug companies, heavy manufacturers, large retailers, insurance companies, even banks." Donors, who could chip in $50 million or more, include the American International Group, Daimler Chrysler, and Home Depot. …The Chamber and its allies will work to oust at least 10 incumbents next year, including justices in Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio, Texas and West Virginia. Target states are recommended by the Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform, using detailed grades of each justice’s rulings to determine which ones are most friendly to business. "

Yes, the money is rolling in and America, defender of the people, is rolling over. We have reaped a bitter harvest from Ronald Reagan’s seeds of deregulation and the thorns of that "Me generation" are scattered everywhere. So take your pick because David Keith is right—it is either Big Government or Big Business.


To my readers: If you ever wonder if I get comments on these columns, I do occasionally. What are your thoughts on the matter?
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*The opinions stated in this page are those of Ms. Eva Ritchey and do not necessarily represent the views of CyTech Computers & Internet Solutions, Inc..
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