If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.
Tuesday 29 January 2013
Read gnomica 1-250 here!
The incestuous relationship between government and big business thrives in the dark.
Jack Anderson (19 Oct 1922 – 17 Dec 2005)
This newsman and columnist was a furious and familiar read back in the day.
If you missed the live action, a good place to recapture those days of epic battles between Anderson and President Nixon, you could do worse than to start with Mark Feldstein’s book, Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson, and the Rise of Washington’s Scandal Culture.
But let me dwell today on the epigraph.
One reads it, and one slaps one’s forehead and groans, “What else is new?” And the one rereads it: hey, wait a minute. Incestuous? I appreciate that the word has broadened semantically to the point that it’s become a kind of semantic dummy variable for ‘bad, evil, corrupt’. But surely it still does evoke a more primitive sense of pertaining to some kind of ‘(sexual) relationship between biologically related individuals’ – doesn’t it? Etymologically, the stem –cest is a compounding variant on Latin cast-us ‘chaste, pure, holy’ (indeed, our word ‘chaste’ is a derivative – by way of Anglo-Norman and Middle English – of Latin castus) with the privative prefix in- ‘not’.
So, by metaphorical extension, any kind of unholy and impure relationship – like the one Anderson speaks of above concerning government and business.
Now, I (spinning what Churchill said in a House of Commons speech on 11 November 1947 of democracy as a form of government in comparison to all other forms: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”) have no qualms about admitting to my belief that “capitalism is the worst form of economic system, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Yes, capitalism can be and often is abused, and no doubt covers vastly different meanings and vastly different functional implementations in vastly different places – just like ‘democracy’: e.g., the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (aka North Korea), etc.
Thus, figuratively speaking one may well imagine those ‘smoke-filled backrooms’ flourishing in the darkness where the privileged few in government conspire with the privileged few in big business and get together in order to throw an (pursuant to this discussion’s dominant metaphor) unholy screwing into the rest of us. Yet, one is forced to admit that it is in the end government oversight entities that un-cover rather than cover-up some of the biggest business frauds in recent memory in the big business fields of accounting, energy, investing, etc.
It strikes me as somewhat glib and certainly very pat to generalize so broadly and speak of an incestuous relationship between business and government. Is the implicit relationship incestuous because ‘offspring’ of government in the form of former solons or heads of agencies of one sort of another now get it on with the government in the form of lobbyists hugely remunerated by their clients avid for billions of dollars worth of contracts from the ‘parent’? Maybe, but that seems a stretch. It may be corrupt, sure, in the view of many, but incestuous, even symbolically? Literally it is of course nonsense.
The fact is that, at least as I understand these matters, lobbyists and lobbying are more American than that proverbial apple pie. If lobbying is an accepted, legitimate, sanctioned means for business to do business with government, is it (in that semantic ‘dummy variable’ sense) bad, evil, corrupt? I’d have to say no, of course not. Surely ‘we’ (aka the United States government) would not be party to countenancing such behavior on the massive scale on which it is apparently practiced openly and affirmatively every day in the D.C. corridors of power.
Tossing out a comment about something being ‘incestuous’ brings one up short, and, given the emotional loading of the word that imprints itself, whatever predicates follow are already tainted, doomed. I agree that the statement (‘The incestuous relationship between government and big business thrives in the dark.’) is a slick formulation, catchy, even, and you can see yourself nodding in vigorous agreement and hear yourself saying, “Yeah, sure. Of course! Death to the blood-suckers!”
But the fact is surely this: it’s a much more nuanced and complicated relationship we’re talking about here than what Anderson’s reductive statement would in fairness allow for.
And here’s another thought to bear in mind: at least in the U.S. there is a relationship between business and government – and all that that implies — and in the U.S. at least there is a government and there is big business – unlike, say, in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (aka North Korea), and all that that implies!