The Breakfast Table

Our Dormant Government Justice System

(This Breakfast Table entry was filed last night and posted this morning.)

Hello, Jim:

If you need some vintage copies of your The Water Lords for your sons and for yourselves, just ask. Yes, I knew that Ed Cox was dating Tricia Nixon but did not know how serious was their relationship. I remember being invited to their White House wedding and being greeted by President Richard Nixon with a remark about a defective toaster they had been talking about the previous evening.

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Your phrase “litigious society” jumped out. Would you be surprised to learn that Americans filed more civil lawsuits per capita in 1830 and in 1850 than they do today? (See the research by Galanter and Rogers at the University of Wisconsin Law School.) The only fast-growing civil litigation is between corporations suing each other. Overall liability costs for the business community have been declining substantially in recent years as a percentage of overall sales—lower than $5.00 per $1,000 in sales, according to Ernst and Young. The big verdicts that grab the headlines are few and far between and are reduced by the judge or by settlement. Then there are the appellate courts. The Wall Street Journal editorialists do not seem to understand that judges, not attorneys or juries, control the courtroom, and about 80 percent of these judges are former business lawyers.

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It is rarely noted that the better newspapers and news magazines (and 60 Minutes and 20/20) often report the excesses of industry and commerce, but to no avail. Nothing happens in the succeeding weeks or months, so dormant are our institutions of government to investigate, enforce the law, or enjoin such abuses.

The New York Times today continues its Page One reporting into the large buyers of supplies for hospitals. These buyers are supposed to spell bargains, but they often do not. And they are nests of commercial corruption and conflicts of interest, as other reports have documented. The Wall Street Journal, outside its editorial pages, continues being an indispensable source about corporate abuses. On Page A6 it reports on the U.S. government’s crackdown regarding violators of law on offshore bank accounts, and on Page B4 it informs readers about a ruling that certain drilling leases in the West are illegal.

There’s a compelling article by Paul Farhi in today’s Washington Post, Page C1, on the essential role of government in our political economy especially when business fails.

It’s 9:00 p.m., and I’m calling it a day. But I’m still going to read the recent Progressive Populist—a little-known but pulsating feature and opinion paper from our country’s farmland.

Eat your breakfast oatmeal. Will be in touch tomorrow from Amtrak—our beleaguered and capital-starved rail-passenger system.

Ralph

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