In the 1980s I worked for Malcolm Forbes.
We were an oddball combination—me, daughter of an ex-Trotskyist, employed by the self-described Capitalist Tool—but for seven years we got along, mostly because we both had a sense of humor.
My key task was to take dictation for Malcolm’s editorials. Each morning he’d pluck a newspaper clipping from the Fabergé desk portfolio that once belonged to Tsar Nicholas II, would read it and would then rock back in his chair with his eyes closed, often for many minutes.
The clip prompted his opinions on the same subject, often with the same slant. He was not a particularly original “pundit” nor, despite being really smart, was he a deep thinker. (One evil effect of great wealth is to stunt the intellectual and ethical growth of the one who possesses it.)
As Malcolm meditated, I would flip the page of my steno pad over and begin to make notes on whatever story I was working on at the time. When he began to talk, I’d flip back to “his” side of the pad and take down what he was saying. In this manner, he would get his editorial done while I, virtually simultaneously, would write a couple of paragraphs of my own work. Of the two of us—since I didn’t wholly own a bi-monthly magazine with four whole pages to fill freely with my thoughts without any outside editorial criticism—I was the less published. I knew I was a better writer.
Often after he finished dictating his opinion, he’d ask me, “Don’t you think so?” Both of us understood it was a rhetorical question. He didn’t need my agreement and certainly didn’t want to hear it.
But one morning I said, “No, I don’t.” He was taken aback. “Um, why not?” he said. I can’t describe the quality of his unwillingness to hear my response. So I said, “I don’t think I can tell you without taking more than a minute and since that’s all you have patience for, I won’t even start.”
He actually blushed. “No, no,” he said, “go ahead, take your time.”
I managed to give him my objection in maybe two minutes—undoubtedly the tersest opinion I’ve ever delivered. But the important thing was the essence of our disagreement.
Malcolm had praised a state government for turning over its prison operations to a profit-making corporation. My objection? Here’s how I stated it:
Government is the moral consensus of a society, in charge of administrating our vital services, our collective ideas about good and bad, right and wrong.
Corporations, on the other hand, are amoral. I meant it not pejoratively in this case, but a corporation’s purpose is to make money for their owners and shareholders. The public good doesn’t factor into its plans unless someone utilizes the Justice Department, a moral government service, to sue for, say, poisoning the environment.
So it’s a lousy idea for amoral profit-making corporations to take over any operation from government which, unlike other non-profit entities, can not qualify or limit its work to one part of our citizenry. Its mandate is to minister to us all.
I thought it was an especially bad idea to have an amoral corporation make a profit from the administration of prisoners whose breach of society’s moral code landed them in prison. Hell of a conflict.
Malcolm did listen. I’m sure he didn’t agree, but I never have thought I could persuade anyone of my point of view so I didn’t care.
What I did and still do now care about is, long before a radically amoral Supreme Court turned government over to corporations in their Citizens United decision, I wrote the 28th amendment to our Constitution in my response to Malcolm Forbes, the Capitalist Tool. It is Separation of Corporation and State.
Next: Don’t spend your money where? A list of really bad corporations that have proudly announced their transgressions of my Separation of Corp and State Amendment.