- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Victor Davis Hanson, in “Hardly the best and brightest” (Commentary, Sunday), highlights that in both classical Rome and contemporary America, “the social contract between the elite and the more ordinary citizens finally began breaking apart - and with it the trust necessary for a society’s collective investment and the payment of taxes.” Left unchecked, this causes “civilization itself … to unwind.”

Mr. Hanson cites two recent aspects of this breakdown: Chief executive officers of banks and investment corporations who ran their companies into bankruptcy while taking home enormous compensation packages betrayed the myriad ordinary men and women who trusted them to steward their savings. Highly placed government officials - some charged with setting or implementing the laws of taxation - did not follow the laws themselves.

I would like to add two considerations. First, the failure of former Sen. Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat; Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat; and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner to pay the proper taxes may well be the result of a tax code that is Byzantine in complexity. Perhaps part of their failure was simply ignorance and confusion.

Second, Mr. Hanson errs when he refers to “free-market capitalists who took huge amounts of money as their companies eroded the savings of tens of millions.”

True free-marketers do not seek bailouts from the pockets of taxpayers. Well-connected businessmen - whose companies made hefty campaign donations - do, however. They are called mercantilists, harnessing the power of government for their own interests at the expense of the general population.

Mr. Hanson correctly states that the failures of judgment and integrity of the so-called best and brightest make up a recipe for national decline, but he also should point out that the problem is deeper than the recent headlines. At the root of our difficulty sits an overreaching government bureaucracy that makes confusing laws; bureaucrats and demagogues who exempt themselves from the laws they themselves contrive; and an elite corporate set that uses the power of government to tax the hoi polloi rather than face the consequences of their own mismanagement.

KEVIN J. DAVERN

Silver Spring

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