Monday, August 5, 2002 Volume 67, Issue 161


Feds should not audit business

Matthew Caster
Opinion Columnist

Terrorists are not to blame for the current state of the American economy ... nor is the Bush Tax Cut of 2001, or even the relative weakness of the dollar on foreign exchange markets. It's reasonably safe to say that the economy has taken a downturn in recent months thanks to the greed of a few wealthy

What all started with Enron has trickled down to Arthur Andersen, WorldCom, Adelphia, Qwest and other huge corporations. The greed of a select few had the
capacity to bring down an entire company.

The current level of mistrust between the public and corporate America has caused the stock market to sink to levels not seen since 1998. The resulting blow
to most people's 401K plans and retirement funds has caused both spending and consumer confidence to plummet. Just as our economy was showing
signs of recovery from the mild recession of '01, corporate scandal slowed everything down.

Oh, sure, the economy will recover. But economists like Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan are now saving their optimism for next year, not this one.
Even low interest rates, low inflation and recent increases in personal income have failed to stimulate spending, primarily because people no longer trust the
stock market, or the people who manipulate the numbers for these huge companies.

Last week under enormous pressure from an increasingly frustrated American public President Bush signed a bill into law to increase enforcement of
accounting laws. The new law would also give the Securities and Exchange Commission additional powers to investigate corporations and permit the
prosecution of corporate big-wigs who use their companies to get rich quick, then ram them into the ground, leaving thousands jobless. 

In response, most Americans cheered, "It's about time."

Am I the only one who has a problem with this? Doesn't anyone else find it ironic that the federal government is now trying to step in as a role model for
corporate board members? And just who, pray tell, takes a look at the government's books?

Ever had a fat person recommend you order a salad? How about a smoker telling you that you shouldn't have a cold beer because it's bad for your liver? And
what about the proverbial pot that called the kettle black? Do Americans want the U.S. government to crack down on corporate crime?

The U.S. government has been in debt since the early 1800s. Even after about 600 tries, Congress hasn't passed a Balanced Budget Amendment that would
require the government not to spend more than it earns. These people spend $2,000 on toilet seats and monitor fish populations in dry lakebeds. As if our
government didn't have fun telling us what we can and cannot do, now they're going to teach corporate America business ethics.

Here's a fact: You can't legislate decency. You can't suddenly make a law that says all CEO's must be nice, kind-hearted human beings, nor can you make a
law that allows the government to take care of the bookkeeping for all these companies.

Want to know how crooked the government's books are? A government watchdog group called Citizens Against Government Waste found during over the last
five years, the government has spent $142 billion more than it has taken in. Last year alone, more than $17 billion in "investor capital" your tax dollars
was lost by inept government accountants.

Where private companies might go out of business with such practices, government agencies get a larger staff and a bigger budget.

Look at the government's two most noticeable offenders: the U.S. Postal Service and Amtrak. The Post Office hasn't made a profit since '97, and Amtrak, even
after 30 years, is still waiting for its first year in the black.

Frankly, my friends, we should be frightened. Our government has neither the capacity nor the ethical standards to regulate what CEOs can and cannot do. 

Yes, the fat cats at the top of the corporate food chain need some sort of ethical standards. Yes, they must be held accountable if something goes wrong. But
do we, as Americans, really want to look towards our government for an example of ethics and budgetary sensibility? Me neither.

Caster, a senior petroleum 

engineering major, can be
reached at

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