Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Martha Stewart has never struck me as a particularly likeable person, but I've been uncomfortable with the feeding frenzy surrounding her for two reasons.

1). It has the stench of class warfare about it. Much of what I hear on the talk shows calling for her head is coming from people who simply want to see a rich person get prison-raped. If it were Bill Gates or Donald Trump on trial, they'd be saying exactly the same things. America loves to see someone become rich. And a couple of days later, America loves to see that person torn to shreds.

2). I don't think "insider trading" ought to be illegal in the first place. The fact is, stock trading is nothing other than people trying to gain an edge over one another through better information and predictive abilities. "Insider trading" laws have always struck me as anti-conservative. They're a misbegotten, egalitarian attempt to artificially level the playing field by making sure that nobody could possibly have an inherent advantage over anyone else.

This, of course, is simply stupid. The person who knows more than me about medical products is not penalized for buying stock in better medical companies than I do. Why should he be penalized for knowing something about what that company is actually going to do? "Insider trading" laws are nothing more than an attempt to handicap people down to the lowest common denominator. It's like putting cement blocks on Carl Lewis's feet so he won't have an "unfair advantage" in a footrace against me.

Stephen Moore in National Review Online has a terrific piece in which he gives voice to exactly the reservations I have about jumping on the Lynch Martha bandwagon. Says Moore:
...[E]veryone who makes money in the financial markets is engaging in some degree of insider trading -- some just have better information than others. Being a good stock picker involves having more information, and knowing how to get it, faster than other traders. What is the difference, really, between a hot stock tip, and insider trading? The line is so murky that it makes the enforcement of insider-trading laws inconsistent and capricious.

...The source of my uneasiness is that many in our society applaud her downfall precisely because of her enormous success. But success is a virtue in America, and when we start treating it as vice, we denigrate our capitalistic system. And then we have a much bigger problem in our society than whether people are trading on hot stock tips in the middle of the night.
It reminds me of the factory workers who are always complaining in the media (along with Ralph Nader) about how we're being "sold out by corporations." They never seem to be able to understand the simple fact that their "evil coroporation" is the reason they have jobs. If they were successful in banishing all the successful people and corporations, where exactly do they plan to work?

(Incidentally, I know that Stewart was actually convicted of lying to investigators, and I have no sympathy for her in that. Still, there'd have been no investigation were it not for these stupid laws to begin with.)

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