Zack McMillan of the Memphis Commercial Appeal recounts for us a great moment in ideology in America, as FedEx CEO Fred Smith deigns to speak to the Memphis City Council. Note that the very premise of the event, that a wealthy CEO should be considered a source of public policy insights, is, though very common in today’s America, a highly ideological notion. Relative to a person selected at random, Smith is no more likely to have substantive insights into the issues facing the Memphis City Council, but much more likely to be deliberately lying in order to personally enrich himself.
But in the United States, when a wealthy and powerful person wants to opine on public affairs, this is viewed not with suspicion (“what’s this rich guy trying to pull?”) but with delight. The mere fact that someone is rich is held to demonstrate that he’s entitled to massively disproportionate political influence even beyond what he’s able to directly purchase. Then he uncorks what appears to have been just pure, 100-proof ignorant wingnuttiness about the genius of unconstrained markets in which the city government’s only concern should be law and order but Smith can’t be bothered to learn or say anything meaningful about crime control issues. This is the silliest part:
“It’s the private sector that creates the wealth that feeds us all,” Smith said. “Government is obviously an enormously important part of our lives and is indispensable in many ways, but government can only function as a result of prosperity produced by the private sector.”
Why we’re even sitting down with the Memphis City Council to ponder the total elimination of the private sector is a bit hard to say. That said, it’s most certainly possible to have a system of government that does not depend on a capitalist private sector. You wouldn’t call the Soviet Union a stellar economic success, but it certainly existed and produced a good deal more prosperity than has Somalia’s experiment in anarchy.
McMillan observes “Despite facing a table packed with a comfortable majority of Democrats, Smith seemed to have a sympathetic hold on his audience.” That’s right. A man comes to give a talk about how we ought to adopt right-wing economic policies citing as theoretical backing for his view the proposition that it would be impossible for a Communist regime to so much as exist, and he’s greeted sympathetically by the more left-wing political party. And this at a time when the credibility of American business is lower than it’s been in decades!