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Opie, Anthony and Enron

The maelstrom surrounding the termination of two radio broadcasters for encouraging a sex stunt in St. Patrick’s Cathedral affords us a rare and salient opportunity to think about some of our political assumptions and to examine some of the political cant that confounds the debate over the role of government in our lives.

Firstly when we refer to “government” we are being imprecise, even misleading, for, after all, we could more accurately substitute “the voters”, or “the citizens” when we refer to the actions of government regulators who are appointed and confirmed by the representatives of the people in our republican form of government. The “government” is not imposed on us by Martians; we, the citizens, construct our government from the ground up at every level through our participation in the institutions of democracy.

I’m bemused to see that some of my fellow citizens who have been most intense in their denunciations of the role of “big government” in our lives, have been among the most strident accusers of Messrs. Opie and Anthony. The very same individuals who recoiled at the suggestion that the SEC implement a more rigorous regulatory regime in the matter of corporate governance, now call for another regulatory agency, the FCC, to fire not only Opie and Anthony, but their managers too!

How is it that some of my fellow citizens who relentlessly proclaim the virtues of economic liberty, have a seemingly more casual commitment to cultural liberty? And how is it again, that these same guardians of the cultural commonweal don’t grasp the gritty reality that their ideology of laissez-faire economic libertarianism is the true cause of the cultural dissipation that they correctly abhor.

For, in truth, the very same economic forces and incentives that encouraged the chicanery rampant at Enron and other corrupt corporations, have made Opie and Anthony, and their imitators inevitable. When powerful private interests, be they energy traders or radio stations, manipulate the political process in order to prevent voters/citizens from employing the legitimate power they derive from democratic institutions so as to assert a minimal standard of ethics in the way these private entities conduct their business with the public, they beget the cultural anarchy that is a natural and ineluctable consequence of the economic anarchy in which they revel.

If we are honest with ourselves, we will come to grips with the immutable, albeit inconvenient, truth, that what some ideologues mislabel economic “liberty” is a prescription for the very social and cultural unraveling that they so adamantly deplore. Enron’s managers pursued a strategy of anarchic deregulation whereby they hoped to reap in the short term an enormous bounty of riches without the valid governmental constraints specifically designed to guard the public economic interest from powerful private economic predators. These valid constraints, previously imposed by the voters/citizens in their own legitimate interest, were removed through a combination of legalized bribery in the form of political contributions as well as a costly and perniciously effective propaganda campaign carried out by industry sponsored think-tanks and foundations utilizing proven modalities learned in the public relations and advertising industries.

Similarly, Opie and Anthony’s managers benefited from an evisceration of broadcasting standards that allowed them to exploit the immensely profitable vulgarity of their charges as they garnered great private rewards by sullying our publicly owned airwaves. It is a sure thing that the station encouraged Opie and Anthony to carry on as they did precisely because it was hugely profitable. Like the executives at Enron there was little incentive to worry about tomorrow while the champagne was flowing today.

The FCC, just like the SEC, was defunded and defanged at the behest of interested private parties who nurtured an exotic and deceptive notion of freedom that was ultimately grossly destructive to both the public pocketbook and the public culture. People who decry the excesses of Opie and Anthony have to understand that public culture is affected by immensely powerful private interests and that these private interests are not primarily concerned with either economic or cultural morality. They are focused on maximizing their own private profit today, come what may to the public weal tomorrow.

Much as it may be “conservatively incorrect” to concede, the inescapable fact is that Opie and Anthony represent a colossal free-market success at the same time as they amount to a sordid moral failure.

Regrettably, this is a contradiction that orthodox “free-market” enthusiasts are reluctant to face. Inasmuch as these private interests have an enormous impact on the public life of our nation, the citizens/voters maintain a wholly valid interest in making certain that neither our public economic or cultural priorities succumb to the narrow and myopic prerogatives of a relatively small number of people, whether they be Enron managers or Opie and Anthony managers.

Jay Diamond is a New York radio commentator.

He can be reached at: JAYKDIAMOND@aol.commailto:JAYKDIAMOND@aol.com

 

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