Friday, February 5, 2010

Fox, Hen, Uncle Sam

Some conservative commentators are positing a conspiratorial theory in which the government is unfairly punishing Toyota in order to gain an advantage either indirectly via UAW interests or directly for its majority shareholder stake.  This is largely infantile and intellectually dishonest partisanship.  But it raises the question, does not a government have a conflict of interest in regulating business interests in which it itself has a stake?

This may be a nice pivot in the government/business divide.  The business owner in theory acts out of self-interest.  The government administrator in theory acts out of "common good".  At this point in history, it is obvious now that too much faith in the latter is foolhardy.  The former, owing to basic human nature, is more precise.  Although while business is often well-regulated by either the market or the owner's sense of benevolence, neither are generally up to the task.

The general messiness of all this makes default partisan crankiness on either side all the more disheartening.  Government is in so many ways not only necessary but very well-implemented, if only for the element of honor and sacrifice integral to the particular task at hand - one only needs to think of the cop, the fireman, the teacher, the librarian, the inspector, the researcher, etc.  Yet this is not enough, and corruption must be guarded for structurally.  In the same way the business corruption must be guarded for structurally. 

Ultimately then, government must be relied upon to police both itself as well as business.  The best solution we have to this "fox/henhouse" dilemma is democracy.  And to the extent that democracy fails, so to does government.  Yet how much of our time is spent debating our democratic process?  How well do our citizens know it?

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