Let nothing stand in the way of money

August 02, 1999|By Robert Reno

IT USED to be that certain things just weren't for sale.

These would include, say, Grant's Tomb, the stuff in Jackie Onassis' closets, the New England Journal of Medicine, Ernest Hemingway's literary reputation and, surely, the New York Stock Exchange.

Well, scratch at least four of those. It would seem capitalism has entered its ultimate stage when anything that cannot be listed, licensed, priced or divided into common shares will be regarded as superfluous social baggage.

How odd that Republicans, of all people, are currently making such an infernal fuss about a few public broadcasting stations renting their donor lists at a time when even Hemingway's heirs are shedding their literary airs and going into the furniture business.

The family's decision to publish some of his most unpublishable work and to license a line of Papa furniture prompted Washington Post columnist Jonathan Yardley to yell that "the most influential American writer in this century is now in competition with Ralph Lauren and Martha Stewart."

Not to be outdone, the lords of the New York Stock Exchange are exploring the possibility of descending into the raucous snake pit of their own trading floor and becoming a publicly traded company.

Also lined up at the trough are the owners of the New England Journal of Medicine, the singularly famous magazine that is always breaking big stories about the latest clinical study.

The 187-year-old journal is getting rid of its distinguished editor, Dr. Jerome P. Kassirer, who had taken an obstructionist view of plans to commercialize the publication's title as a brand name for a thriving publishing empire.

His opposition offended the journal's owner, which is the Massachusetts Medical Society. Face it, in the age of managed care and the corporatization of medicine -- indeed the corporatization of everything -- doctors are being driven to do weird things. So are we all.

Robert Reno is a Newsday columnist.

Pub Date: 8/02/99

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