The First Amendment guarantees people the right of free speech. It is a restriction on the power of the federal government to punish people for criticizing federal officials or for saying things that the government doesn’t like.
Why did our ancestors want the Constitution amended in that way? Because they were certain that the federal government would end up attracting people who would have the desire and the inclination to do bad things to people who criticized them or said things that public officials didn’t like.
Today, the federal government isn’t jailing people for criticizing the government or for saying things the government doesn’t like. But it does have a very effective way to ensure that people stay in line and keep silent about what the government is doing. Its power to manage economic activity ensures silence among people in the business world who are subject to the government’s rules and regulations.
Consider things like the national-security establishment’s assassination program, torture program, totalitarian-like system at Guantanamo Bay, secret surveillance program, alliances with dictatorial regimes, forever wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East, drug war, war on immigrants, and its ever-growing tax-funded largess to fund its massive program of empire and foreign interventionism.
How often have we seen the CEO’s and other high executives in America’s large and mid-sized corporations taking a public stand against these types of things? How often have we seen leading American bankers doing so?
I’d say rarely. Sure, it could be that they agree with all this junk but my hunch is that there is another reason for their silence: They know that the federal government is able to retaliate against them for speaking out. It’s safer to remain silent than subject themselves to brutal retaliation.
How would such retaliation take place? How about an income-tax audit, compliments of the IRS, one of the most tyrannical agencies in U.S. history? Or how about the denial of a merger application? Or the enactment of special tax burdens? Or surprise immigration raids? Or strict enforcement of regulations?
Consider American bankers. Whenever bank examiners suddenly enter a bank to inspect how things are going, bank executives quiver and quake. That’s because the examiners have the ability to make the lives of the bankers absolutely miserable. In a regulated economy, it is always possible to find infractions. The result of the inspections depends on how nice the examiners want to be and how nice the bankers are to them.
Suppose a group of banking executives goes public and openly begins opposing the Pentagon and the CIA. They assume the risk of getting retaliated against during the next bank examination. It’s safer to remain silent. Why take the chance? As New York Congressman Chuck Schumer pointed out, “Let me tell you, you take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you. So even for a practical, supposedly hard-nosed businessman, he’s being really dumb to do this.”
Consider what recently happened to Major League Baseball. It protested a recent vote in Georgia on election reform by announcing the moving of the All Star Game from Atlanta to Denver. The reaction was swift. Various members of Congress immediately threatened to repeal MLB’s privileged exemption from federal anti-trust laws. The message was not difficult to decipher: Keep quiet, MLB, or else.
Over time, the regulated society becomes the obedient, acquiescent, silent society — a nation of sheep rather than one of independent-minded, courageous individuals willing to publicly and openly stand against the wrongdoing of their own government.