The Plantation Business

As always, words and images reveal values. The political fight over regulation of business, and the culture-war battle over health plans and contraception, reveal whether partisans are for the few or for the many.

In my view, a fringe of bad business actors, poorly regulated, pushed America off the economic precipice during George W’s term. Republicans believe the answer to our economic problems is less regulation. They trust the few. Government regulates on behalf of the many. Whose side are you on?

Now comes Marco Rubio, the Tea Party darling from my state of Florida, putting forward a bill that would allow any business owner to refuse to cover any health procedure he or she (mostly he, of course) morally objects to. This is clearly the few deciding for the many.

Some Democrats are eager to have this fight over birth control — imagining this front in the culture war was won long ago. They may be right. But as is often the case, the flames of the morality issues obscure the framework that holds up the conservative view — we’ll all be better off if the few can decide for the many.

That’s the plantation system. That’s paternalism. That’s elitism.

The new ruling class, of course, is the oligarchy. Wealthy business leaders. Let them decide and we’ll all be fine. We shouldn’t worry our pretty little heads about this stuff. How’d that work out when the oligarchy decided unrestrained speculation was good for all of us? In the 1920s, in the 2000s. Today’s New York Times shows that the financial industry violated the law in 84 percent of foreclosures examined in a California study. Leave business alone and business will improve the economy and all of our lives. That’s the philosophy. What we’ve seen in the past decade — and past two hundred years — says leave business alone and too many businesses will damage the environment and make the economy work best for the few, ignoring whether it helps or hurts the many.

(I’m not anti-business. Most of my clients are businesses. My dad was a VP of General Mills, an ethical company. But too many businesses ignore three-quarters of what corporations are chartered to do — serve the community and employees and stockholders and customers. Too many serve only the people — mostly white guys — who run the companies.)

In the America of myth, we supposedly let the people decide. In fact, America has always been run by an elite — those of higher wealth and education. It seems to me that Democrats generally believe the people should have a stronger voice in how the country is run, including providing for the common good. It seems to me Republicans generally believe — despite their rhetoric — that the few should have a greater say, and that will be good for us all. Either side, taken to the extreme, is dangerous.

“This election is about whose side you stand on,” Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren said clearly — as she makes every issue clear with straightforward living-room, not hearing-room, language. “Here’s an example of giving power to insurance companies and corporations to undercut basic health care coverage. I’m going to fight for families to keep that coverage,” Warren said.

Who do you trust? The many, or the few?

— Bruce Benidt

(Photo of Oak Alley Plantation, from

25 thoughts on “The Plantation Business

  1. Erik says:

    How do you think Warren’s quote jibes with her consulting for asbestos companies and their insurers on how to be protected from litigant claims?

      1. Erik says:

        Well, she has done this very thing, and it is easily found on the google. And you have put your finger on the most important point: nobody is pure. Which isn’t to say, both sides do it, everybody does it… blah, blah. It is to say that the constructing compelling sanctimony is very rough, because everyone confronts real world practicality at some point, and how they react is not in fact a product of some nihilism.

  2. Jeremy Powers says:

    Today’s business are not like yesterday’s businesses. Today’s businessman (m/F) is not like yesterday’s businessman. Today, personal reward is even more important that corporate reward. It’s the “I got mine” mentality. How else can you explain stuff like Lehman Brothers. If its officers had the best interest of the company in mind, we wouldn’t be talking about it in the past tense. What I find interesting is today’s businessman is completely morally bankrupt. Move jobs to child-labor camps in Malaysia, no problem. Dump crap in their own water supply and they’ll just shower Perrier And they want us to trust them.

    And they’re hooked up with today’s uber, pseudo moralists, the religious right. So we have this strange bedfellows of people who would sell their country, their city and even their family in exchange for a 48-foot sailboat and a small plane in an nontaxable Caribbean offshore enclave, working with people who want to tell you how to live your life from sperm to natural agonizing death.

    I am convinced that Europe, despite its current issues, will eventually be the largest, richest “country” (region) in the world because they don’t let the religious nuts run everything. And they regulate their capitalism, which somehow has become a swear word in this country.

  3. Some people need some courses in economics. Yes, P.M., Minnesota’s own Timothy Taylor and his Teaching Company series would be a good place to start. Those who believe we have unregulated capitalism surely have never owned a business in the financial sector, insurance sector, medical sector…or most other regulated parts of our economy… need a frickin license to cut hair for Christ’s sake. The point, is, regulation doesn’t stop greed and corruption, never has, never will. Where was Barings Bank located? Oh, yeah, Europe. I could point out all kinds of examples. Visited Ireland lately? (I have). Tell me regulation saved them from the past five years. The claim is ludicrious that more regulation provides more safety.

    Oh, stop. I know what’s coming next. We don’t have ENOUGH regulation. We don’t spend ENOUGH on our regulatory bodies. Just like we haven’t spend ENOUGH to stimulate the economy. It’s always more government and more spending and all our ills will be cured. Excuse me while I piss myself from laughter.

    My liberal friends in college used to sip their coffee at the Reporter office at Mankato State and proclaim “you can’t legislate morality.” Well, somehow, these cynics of government and laws took a left turn toward “I love government.”

    Big business is no different than it ever was and liberals have been harping about it for 200 years. Remember the “Robber Barons” myth?

    You know, Rockefeller monopolized the oil industry, blah, blah, blah. One problem: Oil prices actually fell the more he controlled the industry. Hmmm. Now isn’t that bad for consumers? We wouldn’t want cheaper products (think Wal Mart today).

    OK. I’m almost out of gas. But it truly is amazing when I hand a client a 300 page prospectus on an investment and he looks at me as if I’ve lost my mind. Oh, but it’s 300 pages of CYA, all done to protect the consumer, despite the fact he or she doesn’t understand 90 percent of what’s in there. OK. I’m done (for now).

  4. john sherman says:

    It’s going to be interesting to watch the mass conversion to Christian Science when managers discover all they have to cover in the insurance policy is a faith healer.

    1. PM says:

      I have quite a few Christian Scientists friends growing up. Used to have a Christian Scientist team in our sports league–they would all gather around any member of the team who was hurt and pray for him. Quite willing to let our team doctor check for something like a broken bone, which they would allow to be set, etc., but that was about it. Perhaps the best sports in the entire league, but they didn’t win much.

      1. john sherman says:

        My grandmother was a Christian Scientist; the best part of it was that she subscribed to the Monitor for us, which was my first experience with a really good paper, except for the last page which was theological gibberish. It also had the worst comic section this side of the NYTimes.

      2. PM says:

        Absolutely correct about the Monitor. I was always particularly impressed with its international coverage. It had by far the best coverage of Africa during the 70’s and 80’s. No one else even came close.

  5. Newt says:

    “It seems to me Republicans generally believe — despite their rhetoric — that the few should have a greater say…”

    I assume you’re referring to Republicans’ insistence that electoral laws and the Constitution be followed (e.g. US citizenship, non-felons, living/breathing voters, etc.)

      1. Erik says:

        More skin in the game than I would have necessarily expected.

        But you have kids right. Did the bishops interfere with your family planning in any way?

      2. PM says:

        does it matter if i personally have skin in the game, or just that some people have skin in the game?

        Apparently, the catholic bishops are very concerned about trying to dissuade catholics from using birth control by trying to make it both more expensive and more difficult for lots of people, not just catholics, to obtain birth control.

        It is really very odd, because this will probably end up in resulting in even more abortions. But, from their point of view, I suppose that they don’t see much difference between birth control and abortion, do they?

        but I am not certain why we should allow catholic doctrine to determine US public policy.

      3. Erik says:

        No, it doesn’t matter if you have skin in the game. But you’re not a Catholic, so I was curious what standing you had in that matter such that the bishops had dictated your family planning. Just saying, that the “bishops are going to decide” is a pretty weak talking point. You’re a pol sci professor, right?

        It does not matter if the bishops are right or wrong scripturally. That’s not the Obama administrations determination to make.

      4. PM says:

        The point is that the bishops are trying to decide for people besides themselves–they are trying to impose their values and beliefs on people who do not necessarily share those beliefs. Whether that has an impact on my life or on my next door neighbors life, we all have skin in this game.

        The larger point is that in this country doctrinal/religious viewpoints do not get to determine public policy. That does not mean that religious viewpoints can’t be expressed, or are illegitimate, but they have no more standing than your point of view or my point of view. They enjoy no special standing under the constitution, as the catholic bishops and many pundits like to claim. This is not about freedom of religion, and this proposal would not inhibit freedom of religion in any way.

      5. Newt says:

        Odd, PM doesn’t seemed concerned about government coercion requiring religious organizations to subsidize and provide services that they oppose. It is entirely about religous freedom.

      6. PM says:

        Odd, Newt, that you don’t seem concerned about existing and well established government “coercion” that already requires religious organizations to subsidize and provide services that they oppose, such as national defense (for Quakers and other pacifists) or health care (for Christian Scientists).

        No, this isn’t about religious freedom at all (which you only seem concerned about on a pretty spotty basis), but rather about one specific issue, contraception. This is purely a politically motivated attack, which is also demonstrated by the fact that currently existing state regulations that do the same thing were never opposed by the Catholic bishops in Massachussetts (

        Selective outrage on your part (as well as the bishops and various other republicans) only serves to further demonstrate that this has nothing to do with religious freedom, and everything to do with political opportunism.

    1. Newt says:

      PM – I don’t have the time or energy to school you, but there’s no requirement by the Federal Government to make the Catholic Church to pay for, or provide, military services.

      But there’s a huge problem in coercing, for example, Catholic Charities to insure its employees for abortion and birth control services.

      Again, under the Obamacare precedent, the Feds could easily require synagogues to serve pork or mosques to servce alcohol.

      Spend a little time analyzing it.

      1. PM says:

        or, apparently, the intelligence.

        The real complaint is that catholic charities would not be able to purchase health care insurance that did not include contraceptive coverage. The argument by the bishops is that this would involve them implicitly paying support for contraceptive coverage, even though they would not be doing so directly.

        bottom line is that the laws of the land apply to all of the people here, and no religious organizations are entitled to special exemptions from universal requirements.

        and your last two examples are simply stupid–this precedent specifically excludes churches–but not religiously affiliated organizations.

        But, seriously, please keep this up. this is a great argument for Republicans to be making. I seriously think that this will get your nominee into the White House in November! I can just imagine all of the people around the country who are opposed to birth control who are cheering Romney and Gingrich and Santorum on! You have finally found a winning argument!

Comments are closed.