Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Little Three

Is there a connection between the three scandals of K-Street, Hollywood Wiretap, and Page Six? Jacob Weisberg thinks so, at least in a conceptual sense. Weisberg argues that three scandalous figures, Abramoff, Pellicano, and Stern, represent caricatures of business-as-usual in their respective, rotten milieus. That although they were not really powerful people and were not really doing anything against the culture they were embedded in, their crime was being too blatant and obvious more than it was violating the ethics and mores of their "community."

All three men were third-tier players in their respective worlds. In Washington, the principals are the politicians. In L.A., they are the movie stars. In New York, they are the media executives. The real powers-that-be can dismiss the likes of Abramoff, Pellicano, and Stern as greed-addled parasites, which they indeed were. But if all are caricatures, each man also holds up a mirror to the culture in which for a time he flourished, where not just the outrageous but the ordinary carries a whiff of rottenness.

Good food for thought, and good for a digest of the three scandals if you're not familiar. One haunting thought upon reading this is the real futility in hoping the worlds of lobbying, movies, and gossip will ever truly be reformable. In the end, are they inherently crooked activities? Is the culture itself corrupt and unfixable by its very nature? In every case there was a currency involved beyond simple cash, and as long as that is true, people will always be greedy for it. And they will always find a way to cheat.

BONUS: While you're at Slate, make sure to check out Tyler Cowen's New Orleans Adventure. Cowen doesn't get nearly enough credit, but he's always been using economics and thinking that way in unorthodox ways, way before this book made it cool.