MICHAEL MILKEN, in the eyes of the public, enjoys the moral status of a mass murderer, somewhere between Richard Speck and Adolf Hitler. There is general outrage that the proposed judicial settlement on more than 150 civil suits against Mr. Milken leaves him with $125 million, and his immediate family with more than $300 million, and also that he will serve "only" 40 months out of a possible 10-year jail term. Apparently stripping Mr. Milken of 90 percent of his wealth and putting him in prisMurray N.Rothbardon for nearly four years is akin to letting a murderer go free. What then is his just punishment supposed to be: public drawing-and-quartering?
And punishment for what, exactly? Not only has Mr. Milken murdered no one; he has harmed no one. Instead of sacrificing Mr. Milken as the supposed embodiment of our "decade of greed," we should be hailing him as a brilliant financial innovator, as creative in his field as Thomas Edison and Henry Ford were in theirs. In the best tradition of free enterprise, Mr. Milken made money by serving the American public.
It is no secret that the American industrial base has been in decline, especially in the northeastern Rust Belt. One problem: By the 1960s, inefficient old-line corporate managers, allied to old-wealth financial elites such as the Rockefellers, began dragging down their companies and lowering profitability. The free-market solution came in the form of bright, hungry, new kids on the block from Los Angeles or Texas, brash newcomers from outside the blueblood preppy Eastern Establishment. Through takeover bids, these new entrepreneurs were able to persuade the stockholders to shake up and transform the old corporate hierarchies. They did us all a favor by bringing healthy competition to the stuffy old boardrooms.