By Sam McLure
Alabama Political Reporter
“I have no doubt from what I daily see that our whole system is rapidly becoming a mere money-making concern to those who have the control of it.”
US Senator Calhoun, (Circa 1848)
The Big 4 meet Mr. Blue Suit
The State of YullaMama is located in the southern region of North America. YullaMama’s average temperature is well above 90 degrees. It’s warm weather has proven to be a fertile environment for the ice-production business. Currently there are four ice production companies that retain 95 percent of the market share – the Big 4.
The CEOs of the Big 4 met in the Capitol one day for lunch. One CEO lamented that, “it sure would be nice if there were some way to keep upstarts out of the ice making business.”
Another CEO chimed in, “Hey, what if the State required ice makers to be licensed? The State could set the requirements high enough to make gaining entry into the ice making business almost impossible.” The other CEOs applauded the idea, but couldn’t fathom how this would be possible.
As fortune would have it, eating at the table right next to the Big 4 was a man in a nice blue suit who couldn’t help but overhear the conversation. “Excuse me, Gentlemen. I hate to interrupt,” said Mr. Blue Suit, politely. “My name is Mr. Blue Suit. I work for the Bureau for Community Advancement and I may have a solution for you.”
Blue Suit explained to the Big 4 that the Bureau was a “non-profit”, member based organization, that specialized in helping like-minded business owners change State laws to further “community advancement.” For a small fee, the Bureau could lobby the Legislature of YullaMama, and with Blue Suit’s extensive connections, could get a law passed that would require licensure for any ice makers in YullaMama.
The Big 4 were naturally skeptical. One CEO asked, “If we make this small contribution to the Bureau, can you ensure we get Legislation passed that would make it virtually impossible for new competitors to start ice-making business?”
Blue Suit dropped his head and laughed with a chuckle that made the CEO feel naive. Blue Shirt explained that the Bureau controls one of the most powerful Political Action Committees in the sate. The Bureau’s PAC contributes to the political campaigns of almost every elected official in YullaMama. “That means,” Mr. Blue Suit explained while emphatically thumping his pointed finger on the table, “that these elected officials do what the Bureau tells them to do – otherwise, the Bureau will make sure these politicians don’t stay in office for long.”
“But, won’t there be a public outcry about this?”, asked one of the CEOs. Blue Suit assured them that the standard protocol in these situations was fail safe. The Bureau would enlist scientist do perform focused research and retain marketing firms to disseminate their “evidence-based” research.
“I’m just spitballing here,” said Blue Suit, “but, we could do some research on the health hazards of contaminated ice. If we could find a couple of cases where people have used ice from some no-name dispensary and gotten sick, well then, there you have it. A bill like this would be all about ensuring the public safety … and ensuring “community advancement”
The Big 4 were in. They made the requisite contributions and Blue Suit used the influence of the Bureau for Community Advancement to pass the legislations.
Five Years Later
Five years later, the Big 4 found themselves eating lunch again at the Capitol; this time Blue Suit was comfortably seated at their table. One CEO commented, “Blue Suit, we couldn’t be happier with the legislation you passed. The demand for ice in YullaMama has doubled and our market share has remained the same. No new competitors have entered the market, and a few of the smaller fish even had to close shop because of the licensing regulations.”
“I sense a ‘but’ coming here,” Blue Suit observed with a smile.
“Well, your right,” said the CEO. “I wonder if we could do something more. Is there some other strategy that that Bureau could help us with?”
“I’m so glad you asked,” said Blue Suit with a grin like a cheshire cat. “You’ve only just scratched the surface of possibilities. You’ve accomplished market share protection, but that’s just Phase 1. The real money comes from getting your hands into tax revenue. If you can find a way to reach into the public coffers, then … anything is possible.”
“YullaMama’s state tax revenue is one thing, and we can reach into that for sure,” explained Blue Suit, “but, But, BUT … the Federal Government, has an unlimited power to tax and print money. Figure out how to get a piece of that and …,” Blue Suit leaned back and raised his eyebrows with an anything-is-possible look.
The Big 4 sat at the table in silence. They mostly looked down at their plate or coffee cup … occasionally glancing at each other. The look each CEO gave to the other made it clear, “We’ve got to do this.” The boldest of the Big 4 broke the silence, “Okay, Blue Suit, lay it out for us. How do we get this done?”
“First, we need to privatize the ice making needs of the schools and prisons,” Mr. Blue Suit was clearly in his element. “We can cite some studies that there has been an outbreak of contagious diseases from in-house ice making. So, it’s essential for ‘community advancement’ that we outsource ice-making to someone to ‘experts’ who are licensed by the State. And, of course, that would be you guys.” The CEOs of the Big 4 nodded in agreement with a slight smile.
“Can we can get all that done legislatively – like we did with the licensing bill?”, asked the bold CEO.
“Absolutely. Remember, nobody gets elected or stays elected in YullaMama without our blessing.” Mr. Blue Suit went on, “Next, we have to get you guys tied into Pres. Tupaloo’s infrastructure money. Pres. Tupaloo has promised 4 billion to the State for ‘infrastructure’ if YullaMama will pass 4 or 5 pieces of legislation. You guys could get a big chunk of that 4 billion as the sole distributors of ice for all the workers out in the field putting up bridges and such.”
“Imagine this,” said Mr. Blue Suit, “we can find a medical doctor who can show that it is essential for workers in YullaMama to have ice on hand at all times for their health – due to the heat, of course. Then we have an analyst do some research to show that it saves a ton of money to have that ice delivered to the workers on the construction site.”
Blue Suit leaned back from the table as before, with the same eyebrow lifting anything-is-possible look, “We are talking millions of dollars of contracts from federal money … and hey, it’s gonna go to somebody. Might as well be you, boys.”
The CEOs of the Big 4 once again sat in silence as the possibilities of Blue Suit’s proposal sank in. After seconds that seems like minutes, the mildest and quietest CEO spoke up, “Something has been bothering me from the beginning of our work with the Bureau. Now, don’t get me wrong … we’ve all gotten filthy rich from the licensure requirement and what you’ve just proposed could triple our net worth.”
“But, here’s my predicament,” said the mild CEO. “I don’t know that what we’ve done and what we are proposing to do is good for the State of YullaMama. People are paying higher prices for ice because there’s less competition. And, we stomped out all the little guys. And, if we get the contracts to make ice for the schools and the prisons, it’s going to costs taxpayers way more money than just making it in-house.”
Brows began to furrow on the faces of the other CEOs, but the mild CEO continued, “And, I’m not really sure the Federal Government has the right to tax folks the way they do and spend money like we’re talking about. The 10th Amendment gave them very limited powers. Each time the Federal Government taxes and spends money outside those parameters, it sort of feels like stealing. I’m not sure I want to reap the benefits of stolen money.”
Blue Suit leaned forward with a nervous laugh and quickly chimed in, “I get where you’re coming from. Look, lots of folks have that concern, but you can’t turn the clock back. Our whole two-party system is geared to people, like you boys, reaping the benefits of the tax revenue. Let me break it down to you this way: Republicans scream ‘Pro-Life’ and Democrats scream ‘Criminal Justice Reform.’ The reality is, if either party really cared about those things, they would be resolved yesterday. But the truth is, if they were resolved, then the respective parties wouldn’t have a platform to stay in power. We just ‘make up’ these social justice issues to keep the right people in power so the Bureau can continue to serve your business interests – the interests of ‘community advancement.’”
“And this is just Capitalism, Boys.” Mr. Blue Suit was starting to sweat, “Greed is good. Greed gives us cars and air conditioning and medicine … and ICE! What we are talking about is just the invisible hand of Capitalism. I’m not proposing anything illegal.” Blue Suit looked at the group for affirmation, but all he saw was blank stares. “Look, my perspective is you get as much as you can from on the public’s dime without going to jail. If you don’t get it, someone else will … someone who is probably a flaming liberal. If that makes me a terrible person, then … I guess I’m a terrible person.”
What Would You Do?
What would you do if you were a CEO of the Big 4. If you agree with Mr. Blue Suit and would move forward with his proposal, then I don’t know if there is much I can do for you. But if, like the mild CEO, something doesn’t sit right with you about the Bureau’s arrangement, then travel with me on this three part series to explore greed in politics. Part I will focus on diagnosing greed. Part II will explore some of the most sinister examples of greed in Alabama politics. And, Part III will propose solutions to curbing the effects of greed in Alabama politics.