McCain's War on Political Speech
Is Bradley A. Smith really so naive as to believe that campaign contributions play no role in our corrupt political system ("John McCain's War on Political Speech," December)? This very magazine is filled with articles that prove the opposite. Why does he think Congress and President Bush have outspent every president in history, enriching big contributors in the process? Why does he think taxpayers spend $300 billion per year on corporate welfare, which includes subsidies, grants, no-bid contracts, tax breaks for the wealthy, and $25 billion in local pork and bridges to nowhere?
These were bought and paid for by campaign contributions, and it costs each taxpayer more than $3,000 per year to support these government giveaways. No, these fat cats are not being "good corporate citizens"; they are bribing politicians. Ask the folks at Halliburton, Bechtel, and Enron if their political money doesn't win them taxpayer-funded favors, and they'll laugh you out of the state.
I don't like the McCain-Feingold bill as it is, and it's not what Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) originally wanted. It's what was left over after Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Tom DeLay (R-Texas) gutted the original proposal. If the defenders of democracy want a fair system, they should pass the Clean Money Elections bill proposed by Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.). As they do in Arizona and Maine, under systems voted in by the people, we could fully fund our federal elections for a cost of $10 per taxpayer per year. It's voluntary, so it passes constitutional muster. Leave the current system in place and let the politicians continue receiving campaign funds from private interests, if they want to. But for those without money or who do not want to be obligated to private funders, give them an alternative public grant equal to what was spent in the district in the previous election, but restrict their spending to campaign costs.
The transcript of Bradley A. Smith's talk on "campaign finance reform" was a marvelous contribution to reason. Regulating money in politics (and therefore speech, since advertising is so central to campaigns) is like having elephants stomp on Jell-O. Money will continue to find outlets–even less direct, even less traceable, even less comprehensible to the average Joes who would prefer to cast informed votes.
The best way to "fix" things would be to take advantage of information technology: Take off the limits and require real-time disclosure of income and expenditures. See a crappy ad? Find out who bought the damned thing. Can't learn enough in a 30-second spot? Sometimes you can learn more about a candidate by checking who is putting their money behind that particular mouth.
Let a Thousand Choices Bloom
A great advance in education ("Let a Thousand Choices Bloom," December) would be for textbook publishers to offer warranties on accuracy. The whole point of education is to transmit accurate information. Unfortunately, there are hundreds of factual errors in numerous textbooks at the K?12 and college levels. Hundreds of millions of tax dollars are going to miseducate millions of students right now. It's so bad that colleges don't insist that their faculties take responsibility for the accuracy of the textbooks they write or review.
Woodland Hills, CA
Goodbye to Goldwater
After reading Jonathan Rauch's review of Rick Santorum's It Takes a Family ("Goodbye to Goldwater," December), I'm convinced the conservative movement's founding father, the late Arizona senator and 1964 GOP presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, must be rolling over in his grave.
Remember Goldwater's stand concerning gays in the military? He said, "You don't have to be straight to be in the military; you just have to be able to shoot straight." About the so-called Moral Majority: "What Jerry Falwell needs is a good swift kick in the ass." If Goldwater were alive today, he would disown Santorum and his allies.
Great Neck, NY
Corporate Social Responsibility Revisited
In the October Reason, two businessmen and an economist–Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, Cypress Semiconductor CEO T.?J. Rodgers, and Nobel laureate Milton Friedman–debated the idea of corporate social responsibility (CSR).
The feature generated further conversation in other media outlets, from Time to The Wall Street Journal. Here's a sampling:
"Rodgers assailed the CSR-imbued philosophy that guides Whole Foods, calling it similar to those of Karl Marx and Ralph Nader. Mackey, an avowed libertarian, replied that his approach has brought a lot more wealth for Whole Foods' investors than the one embraced at Cypress, which, he noted, has struggled to be profitable. Indeed, though Cypress made a small profit in 2004, it booked losses in the three previous years."
–Unmesh Kher, Time, December 12
"[Mackey] realizes (as he should) that there are groups of parties whose 'good feelings' (trust which allows lower transaction costs and thus increased efficiencies) extend beyond the shareholder. But then [Mackey] throws the door open to the whole world–arguing that if the shareholders don't mind and it makes him and the other managers 'happy,' why not? And his point is well-taken–why should anyone but the owners (and, of course, the potential owners–takeover firms, hedge fund operators, institutional investors) object to this strategy?
"My problem is that there is no evidence that 'making nice' with those antagonistic to economic and technological change has any positive affect on the bottom line…and there is considerable evidence that the Pharisee strategy ('Thank you God, that I'm not as bad as those other sinners') merely makes one a target. Gary Hart's 'If you can find anything bad about me, print it' is not a wise strategy for any profit-seeking firm."
–Fred L. Smith Jr., The Wall Street Journal Online, December 6
"It doesn't take much to send Thurman John Rodgers into full-scale pugnacious mode. Over the years he has taken on a Franciscan nun, Jesse Jackson and his own industry on behalf of the principle that corporate management should be freed from political fashions, foolish regulations and government handouts.
"So no one was particularly surprised at the intensity of his remarks in a forum on corporate social responsibility last month in the libertarian magazine Reason…Rodgers went ballistic at Mackey's 'subordination of his profession as a businessman to altruistic ideals.'
"When I reminded Rodgers that San Jose?based Cypress also believes in corporate philanthropy and good employee and customer relations and thus that he and Mackey were not so far apart, he repeated that emphasis is important: 'I'm not a food bank contributor who decides to make semiconductor chips. I'm a chip guy who gives to a food bank.'?"
–Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, November 3
"A recent issue of Reason magazine features a spirited debate between John Mackey, the founder of the Whole Foods grocery chain, who lays out the business case for CSR, and two critics–economist Milton Friedman and [T.?J. Rodgers], founder of Cypress Semiconductor, who argue that businesses do the most for society just by maximizing shareholder profits. Liberal advocacy groups, meanwhile, dismiss CSR as toothless self-regulation designed to gussy up the tattered image of investor capitalism."
–Steven Pearlstein, The Washington Post, October 5
"?'The business model that Whole Foods has embraced,' [Mackey] argues, 'could represent a new form of capitalism, one that more consciously works for the common good instead of depending solely on the "invisible hand" to generate positive results for society. The "brand" of capitalism is in terrible shape throughout the world, and corporations are widely seen as selfish, greedy and uncaring. This is both unfortunate and unnecessary…'
"Oh, come on. The 'brand' of capitalism is in better shape today than probably at any time in history when compared with its discredited competitors. And where did Mackey get the idea he's the first capitalist committed to delighting customers while treating employees and the community with respect?"
–Vincent Carroll, Rocky Mountain News, September 30
Congratulations to Hit & Run, Reason's staff weblog, for winning the Best Group Blog prize in the 2005 Weblog Awards. To sample Hit & Run for yourself, go to reason.com/hitandrun.