Some of this country's most cherished rights are too often sold to the highest bidder, a former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors said last night. "Too often we allow rights to be polluted by dollars and the market," he said.
First of Three
Arthur M. Okun made the comments before an audience of over 200 at the Science Center last night as this year's Godkin lecturer. The lecture was the first in a series of three to be completed tonight and tomorrow night.
Okun cited the present system of campaign financing as an example of "dollars polluting rights."
In the current debate over public financing, many people are saying that a limitation on campaign spending is a limitation on freedom of speech, Okun said.
But with some people contributing more than others, dollars are trampling the idea that everyone should have an equal vote in determining an election, he said.
Okun said large corporations use big contributions as a means of gaining undue power. "Howard Hughes, who is a smart investor, regarded political contributions as in important part of his investment portfolio," he said.
But while the market pollutes rights, Okun said, it can also be used to protect rights. A free press, entirely removed from government intervention, is the only way freedom of speeech can be protected, Okun said. Competition among free market newspapers will also insure that this freedom will be used vigorously, he added.
The problem with the market is that it allows people to buy things that should not be bought, Okun said. As an example, he said, it allows people to buy their way out of legal responsibilities by allowing them to buy prestigious lawyers.
When this happens it is the responsibility of the state to restore equity by insuring things like competent legal counsel for everyone.
The theme of Okun's three-part series is "The Trade-Off between Efficiency and Equity." In the remaining lectures Okun will discuss ways in which the maximum amounts of equity and efficiency can be achieved.
Okun is a graduate of Columbia and a former professor of economics at Yale. He served on the Council of Economic Advisors during the Johnson Administration and served as council chairman in 1968. Okun is currently a fellow at the Brookings Institute.