- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Some weeks ago, nationally syndicated columnist Arianna Huffington made national news when she linked Detroit to the terrorists threatening America. How so? Well, she explained, look at those big SUVs, those gas-guzzling monsters that increase our addiction to foreign oil, and how that helps fund terrorist activity. Recall that on September 11, 15 of the 19 terrorists attacking the World Trade Center and the Pentagon originated from oil giant Saudi Arabia. So, ipso facto, Detroit with GM, Ford, and Daimler-Chrysler, their suppliers and their unions is guilty of harming national security.

What is telling about this dot-misconnecting is its near-absolution of the demanding motorists in the picture, America's market consumers, including soccer moms using SUVs to get their kids to schools and playing fields. Or is this another case of personal responsibility being manipulated by evil corporations such as McDonald's, itself charged with luring innocent Americans, including naive teens, into obesity via French fries and Big Macs? Personal responsibility? Forget it.

Such thinking dominates this one-sided tract on corporate greed in boardrooms, and even in the Bush White House. Mrs. Huffington charges, for example, that both Harken Energy, when now President Bush was on its board, and Halliburton, when now-Vice President Dick Cheney was its CEO, set up subsidiary shell firms in offshore tax havens to avoid paying their "fair" share of taxes.

But isn't Mrs. Huffington's use of "fair" here a bit slippery, when consumers pay the great bulk of corporate taxes hidden in the form of higher prices paid for corporate wares. Or fair to employees and shareholders who also pay via lower wages or dividends? For at the end of the day, do corporations pay taxes? They pay them up front, yes. But under competition for investment funds, corporate taxes tend to get shifted to others.

Mrs. Huffington also devotes pages to the sins of, inter alia, Tyco's avid CEO Dennis Kozlowski and his excesses, including shelling out corporate cash of $6,000 for his mansion shower curtain. So, with dozens of other dubious firms and their top executives cited here for misdeeds, including those of Enron, WorldCom, AOL, and Adelphia, which the author charges are only the tip of the corporate corruption iceberg. Quite a charge. But note how share values in such corporate scandals were quickly and severely punished on Wall Street and world markets punishment meted out far faster than that of the courts or of the Securities and Exchange Commission and other regulatory agencies.

The author even goes after Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan for contributing a chapter (against antitrust) some 35 years ago to an Ayn Rand book defending capitalism. Rand herself gets hit for having written: "Businessmen are the symbol of a free society the symbol of America. If and when they perish, civilization will perish." Yet note that Rand protected her statement in specifying "symbol" and "a free society." She never said businessmen were ready for sainthood. She was too much of a realist for that.

For all the talk of corporate greed, doesn't that phrase serve Mrs. Huffington as convenient calumny for the very self-interest at the core of human nature everywhere, even that of the author herself? One can thank Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration for aptly hailing it, along with life and liberty, as "the pursuit of happiness."

So, apart from greed of corporate top execs, can't we please talk also of trial lawyer greed or trade union greed? Or professional football or basketball player greed or Hollywood star greed or, heaven forfend, government greed, including congressional greed for pork or that of the IRS with its nosy Form 1040? Somehow, Mrs. Huffington doesn't. It would seem that our author is shall we say? selective.

When she started out on her career years ago, this reviewer bumped into the author at meetings of such conservative organizations as the Fraser Institute of Vancouver, B.C., and the renowned international Mont Pelerin Society. But at a recent Washington book party for the writer, how interesting to see that her photo with presidential hopeful Democrat Sen. John Kerry made The Washington Post, or that her party was given by Beth Dozoretz, a big contributor to the Democrat Party. It would seem that our crusading author has drifted to the left. No crime, of course, but perhaps that drift bespeaks of America as well.

William H. Peterson is an adjunct scholar at the Heritage Foundation and a contributing editor to the Foundation for Economic Education's "Ideas on Liberty."

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