Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Marlboro Mendicant

"Insanity doesn't run in my family," exclaimed Cary Grant in the 1944 comedy, Arsenic and Old Lace. "It gallops!"

Insanity also gallops in the boardrooms of American business and industry. For over a century, the producers of this country have been the subjects of repeated assaults by government and anti-business groups. When they have fought back, they have without exception resorted to the argument that proposed regulations and controls are impractical and would result in unfortunate consequences throughout the economy, never believing that the "impractical" has never been a standard of their enemies' purpose.

The assaults have been based on the morality of service and sacrifice. American business consequently ceded its assailants the moral high ground, and never responded in kind. It is as though some congenital disease blocked their thinking and prevented them from following the logic of their persecutors.

In one sense, one cannot gainsay American business for not defending itself with the assertion of a rational morality. It has never had a consistent philosophical defender. But, with death or extinction staring them in the face, one would expect that the brightest and proudest American businessmen would sooner or later make the connection between strangulation by statist policies and the continued existence of their enterprises. Instead, they have adopted the role of mendicants, pleading for their lives and promising cooperation with their destroyers in the name of "public service" and the "public good."

The disease is an accepted guilt for simply existing, for working for their own profits and selfish ends.

The most eloquent and thorough moral defense of capitalism appeared half a century ago, in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. So, there is no longer an excuse for business to play the role of helpless mendicant. The novel and its author are too well known, but the novel may as well have never been written. The defense is there, but few have ever availed themselves of it.

One by one they capitulate to force or threatened force: Microsoft, Wal-Mart, McDonald's, the insurance business, the securities industry, the medical profession, even restaurateurs: the role of dishonor grows yearly.

If statism expands unopposed, a point is reached when many victims of it elect to become willing participants in exchange for permission to exist. That their cooperation with the destroyers will make it easier for the destroyers to enslave or destroy others is not a "practical' consideration in the decision to capitulate. The Altria Group, formerly known as Philip Morris, is one of these turncoats. It has chosen to don the armband of the American swastika.

Witness a story from The New York Times of February 16th, "Trying Again for a Bill to Limit Tobacco Ads."

"After being thwarted for years, a bipartisan group of members of Congress reintroduced legislation that would allow the federal government to further regulate the tobacco industry by cracking down on marketing aimed at young people and requiring that reduced-risk tobacco products back up their (sic) claims with science." (Whose "claims"? The bipartisan group's? The tobacco industry's? The young people's? The reduced-risk products'? Well, this is the Times, which hasn't for decades been noted for its grammatical precision.)

The issue here is censorship. The usual suspects, Senators Ted Kenney and John Cornyn, and Representatives Thomas M. Davis and Henry A. Waxman introduced this bill, in addition to another anti-tobacco bill (see "Congress: A Modern 'Diet of Worms'" from February 20th), completely oblivious or hostile to the wording of the First Amendment. But, who is sanctioning this evil?

"The Altria Group, the company formerly known as Philip Morris, is among the bill's biggest supporters."

Why?

"Altria officials maintain that regulation is inevitable and that clear standards would help as the market shifts toward new products like smokeless tobacco and reduced-risk cigarettes...'At some point, this is going to happen,' said Steven C. Parrish, Altria's senior vice president for corporate affairs. 'It would set some clear rules for all the companies to play by.'" Altria is the parent company of Philip Morris USA.

So, now the argument is that proposed regulations and controls - in addition to censorship - are practical and would result in beneficial consequences throughout the economy!

"Mr. Waxman and his co-sponsors argue that regulation by the Food and Drug Administration is necessary because smoking remains the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the United States."

That's odd. I thought it was car accidents. Or not wearing seatbelts in car accidents. Or high cholesterol. Or obesity. Or heart disease. Well...never mind.

"The bill that was introduced yesterday would give the FDA authority to regulate the sale and distribution of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco so they are not marketed to children. It would also regulate marketing to prevent misleading claims related to health....and it provides for stronger warning labels on tobacco products, with more explicit details of the medical consequences."

Of course, the bill isn't just about smoking or cigarettes. The malice felt by politicians and the power they wish to see exercised over tobacco products represent a precedent that allows them also to wish also to regulate the American diet. Thus the hue and cry about trans fats, and obesity, and, more recently, the move to force restaurants to list calorie counts on their menus. The tobacco industry already is forced to practice what could be called "inverse censorship," that is, to derogate their own products. The makers of pastas, spices and other food ingredients are likely next to be forced to carry warning labels on their products.

It is nearly futile to remind the tobacco companies or any other American industry of the issue of censorship and the desire of statists to leave no citizen left behind in their quest to achieve the complete regimentation of American society. American businessmen appear to be unafraid of the consequences, so long as they are permitted to exist in some form. They are either unafraid, or ignorant of those consequences. If one called them cowards to their faces, it is doubtful they would feel offended. And quoting Ayn Rand - "I'm not brave enough to be a coward; I see the consequences too clearly" - would be to go over their heads.

The Supreme Court, of course, cannot be counted on to see the issues and rule on them in favor of individual rights, the sanctity of property, and freedom of speech. The Times on February 20th ran an article, "High Court nixes award against Philip Morris."

"The Supreme Court threw out a $79.5 million punitive damages award to a smoker's widow Tuesday, a victory for Altria Group Inc.'s Philip Morris USA, which contested an Oregon Supreme Court decision upholding the verdict.

"In a majority opinion written by Justice Stephen Breyer, the court said the verdict could not stand because the jury in the [Oregon] case was not instructed that it could punish Philip Morris only for the harm done to the plaintiff, not to other smokers whose cases were not before it."

Yes. That is the substance of Philip Morris's victory. A procedural error, a technical misstep or oversight by a lower court. When I read that, I recalled the scene in Schindler's List when the Nazi officer's pistol would not fire, sparing the intended victim immediate death and allowing him to creep away, safe for the moment.

Brayer wrote that states must "provide assurances that juries are not asking the wrong question...seeking not simply to determine reprehensibility, but also to punish for harm caused strangers."

Nowhere in this majority opinion does any moral issue play a role. It is as though fundamental Constitutional issues were irrelevant. The verdict may stall class action suits for a while, but that will only encourage lawyers and their looting plaintiffs to try harder to circumvent the Supreme Court's specious reasoning.

It occurs to no one - not to the tobacco companies, not to the regulators, not to the plaintiffs or their lawyers who build such "punitive" cases - that the "inverse censorship" of mandated label warnings on any product will not protect any business against ruinous lawsuits, and especially not against further regulations and controls. (Well, perhaps their predatory, multi-millionaire ambulance-chasing lawyers realize it.)

Further, the issue of the efficacy of mandated warning labels should also have occurred to the Supreme Court; if the warnings are ignored, of what use are they? Cigarette warning labels have been around for decades; they have neither deterred smokers nor stymied individual or class action suits against tobacco companies. Shouldn't the failure of the law to accomplish its purpose - that is, the failure of government force employed to "inform" the public - have deterred legislators? No. The failure has only convinced them that more comprehensive controls are necessary.

But that matter apparently did not pass through any of the justices' minds, either, nor did the question of whether or not the plaintiff's lawyers or doctors could even prove that her husband died of lung cancer caused by smoking Marlboros, regardless of whether or not her husband believed that Philip Morris assured him and countless other smokers that its cigarettes were safe. The causes of lung cancer are numerous and not necessarily associated with or caused by smoking; the disease did not abruptly appear with the first cargo of tobacco from Virginia in the 17th century. How else can one account for the fact that other two-pack-a-day smokers do not contract cancer and live far into old age, or die instead of prostrate cancer or liver failure? The Oregon Supreme Court should have thrown out that suit in the beginning on that basis, at least.

This same issue also applies to warning or nutritional content labels or calorie count labels on menus. And also to cars, coffeemakers, pencil sharpeners, and any other commercial product.

To return to the larger picture, if one ever wondered how the National Socialist Party ever came to power in Germany and was given leave to commit the horrors it did before and during World War Two, it should be remembered that it had the sanction and support of most German businesses and industries, who submitted to Nazi political power in a futile attempt to save themselves. In effect, they "voluntarily" nationalized themselves. Altria's craven endorsement of Congress's latest foray into censorship is no less contemptible.

For details of how and why such a thing is possible in America, see Leonard Peikoff's The Ominous Parallels: The End of Freedom in America.

2 comments:

Mike N said...

You are so right! When Hitler rose to power he used hate-filled, kill-crazy youth to snuff out opposition. The brownshirts of tommorrow are all around us. Just go to a handful of leftist websites and you'll see the snarling hatred in their posts and comments. They are just waiting for the right fuhrer to come along and promise to deliver America from the hands of the greedy and selfish exploiters--businessmen. And the businessmen are defending themselves by saying--nothing.

Dan Rohr said...

The longer I live & the more examples I see of the lurch toward total statism, the more I am convinced that the half-assed efforts of the semi-capitalists (pragmatic businessmen listed in your account) are doing all of us in; even the very best of them. The lack of a consistent philosophy, the ignorance of Objectivism, spells an accelerated demise for all of us. It'd be better if they just said: we give up.