Friday, October 19, 2007

Assault on the Profit Motive

My Congressional Representative sends out a newsletter about once a week. I sometimes write a short note agreeing and disagreeing on various of his positions. Today, I reprint below the first of my congressman's accomplishments:

House Adopts Legislation to Crack Down on Iraq Contracting Fraud

On October 9, the House of Representatives voted 375 to 3 to approve the War Profiteering Prevention Act [H.R. 400] to make war profiteering a felony, subject to up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $1 million or twice the profits of the crime. There is currently no federal statute specifically targeted at prohibiting contracting fraud during times of war, military action, or reconstruction activities.

War profiteering and reconstruction fraud by U.S. companies has become a significant problem in the Iraq war. The U.S. has devoted more than $50 billion to U.S. contractors for relief and reconstruction activities in Iraq alone, with billions of these dollars unaccounted for. In February, the head of the Defense Contract Audit Agency testified that the agency estimated that there have been more than $10 billion in questioned and unsupported costs related to Iraq reconstruction and troop support contracts since 2003.

(link omitted)

So I sent this letter to his office.

Dear Congressman:

"I object to your voting for the anti-profiteering legislation regarding Iraq contractors.This is nothing but an attack on the concept of profits. I have no problem with prosecuting companies who actually commit fraud in their contracting. If you were serious about fraud, I would think you would go exclusively after that practice. But you don't. Your concern is also that someone may 'profit' from the fraud implying that if no profits were had, the deceit and dishonesty would not be as serious.

This evaluation is supported further by the fact that you specifically cite profits as evidence of possible fraud "War profiteering and construction fraud...". This means that any company making any money in Iraq is automatically suspect in your eyes.

The Constitution's declaration that every man has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is the first declaration in mans' history that held profits to be moral so long as the same right of others to profit is respected. In this light, equating fraud with profit making is very un-American.

The issue of whether profits were made is irrelevant to the issue of was a crime committed. Profits may be a motive-and often are-but never a proof of guilt, nor should they be the target of any legislation. HR400 "to make war profiteering a felony" which you supported, is a direct attack on profits, not fraud. Sure, the word fraud is mentioned several times in your newsletter, but it is not the main focus of HR400, profiteering, or making money, is.

I'm not saying that a thief shouldn't have his loot confiscated and returned to its rightful owner. I am saying that when he goes to jail, it's not because he stole an ipod instead of a toaster.

As mentioned, I'm 100% in support of your efforts to go after fraud. I'm 100% opposed to going after profits as if they were a sign of some kind of evil."
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I want to add that the concept of "profiteering" is a cognitive package deal. A package deal is a concept that destroys the valid meaning of a concept by replacing it with a pseudo or false meaning. In this case, the valid concept money making--the rational pursuit of wealth--is equated with the also valid but opposite meaning of--the irrational pursuit of wealth--in which thieves, robbers and con men indulge.

It is not the case that the users of that package deal are saying "We want a concept that refers to wealth gained by dishonest means but we don't want to disparage or smear in any way the concept of the rational pursuit of profit." No sir. The exact opposite is true. The users of 'profiteering' fully intend to obliterate the distinction between the honest (rational) and dishonest (irrational) pursuit of wealth.

The public is already familiar with the concept of racketeering (another package deal) and by means of association, will attribute the same negative or immoral connotation to 'profiteering'. Thus, when a member of the public hears the term 'profiteering', he will associate the negative or immoral meaning to it. He will also come to believe that the crime is not in the violation of some one's rights, but in profiting from that violation. This means that a bunch of CDs bought with the thousand dollars he just robbed at gun point is evil because he is 'profiteering'. But giving that stolen thousand dollars to his favorite charity is not 'profiteering' and so is not evil. (This last is called taxation.)

As a side note,the above mentioned concept 'racketeering' is also a package deal in that it refers only to that which is illegal and not necessarily a rights violation. It reminds me of the excellent analogy by Peter Schwartz in his CD lecture Clarity in Conceptualization: The Art of Identifying "Package Deals" which I recommend and can be purchased here. In it, Mr.Schwartz explains how the concept criminal could be destroyed by creating the concept 'rule ignorer'. In which case, the idea of a person who violates rights (criminal) is replaced by the idea of a person who ignores arbitrary rules like wearing white after Labor Day. In this way, the government, as a protector of individual rights, is replaced with the idea of government as the issuer of arbitrary rules which every one else must obey.
I would say that the concept 'racketeering' is a version of 'rule ignorer'. Again, I really recommend buying Mr. Schwartz's 4 CD set linked above. Knowing how to spot package deals is like having one's own mental firewall which helps one detect the viruses of package deals and anti-concepts which in turn destroy one's ability to think clearly.

Anyway, I couldn't let my congressman's chest beating go unchallenged. I don't expect him to convert to my way of thinking but I do want him to know there is a difference of registered voter opinion out there. Actually, my rep. is an old fashioned liberal, the old left, so there are fragments of his reasoning one can appeal to.
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