Pro-business critic of government off-base

August 23, 2010

Prof. Thomas DiLorenzo obscures more than enlightens when he argues that government, not business, is more inherently immoral because of government's power to legally coerce wealth from others ("Business ethics' wrong focus," Commentary, Aug. 22).

This distinction between "business" and "government" ignores the historical fact that businesses, once they've made a great deal of money, can use their wealth to effectively purchase the government they want. It also ignores constitutional recognition of corporations as "persons" which protects CEOs and corporate board members from fines or imprisonment should they pollute, extort, or steal. Would the BP "shakedown," as one Republican free market advocate put it, have been possible without the government being there to coerce BP into making extensive reparations to the victims of their oil spill? Or are we to believe that in a marketplace absent of government regulation, the shrimp fishermen and hotel owners along the Gulf Coast could have afforded to fight BP in the courts?

Free market advocates would counter that a pure free market would prevent such abuses. But this argument strikes me as utopian, and such arguments can be cynically used by the powerful. Just as Marxist ideologues in the 19th and 20th centuries helped nurture the rise of totalitarian communist states, our modern free market ideologues have become the intellectual architects of a powerful global alliance between corporations and governments. No, Prof.. DiLorenzo, the problem is not which is worse, government or business, but who has the power to smash the little guy and the wealth to purchase that power. In every age that has always been the political question at hand for lovers of freedom and justice.

Jay Hilgartner, Baltimore

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