Medieval wine merchants.
I am crazy busy right now, but I just had to comment on the beginning of the trial for Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling of Enron. According to the NY Times article I just linked, the case is complex and a guilty verdict is not a forgone conclusion -- especially with the army of expensive lawyers these men have at their disposal (note: I am not anti-lawyer, I come from a family of lawyers. But at times I am distressed at what unlimited financial resources can do to justice in a courtroom).
Not only should these men be behind bars for the sake of justice and as a warning to others like them, but the thought of what pundits on the right will say if they get off turns my stomach. If that does come to pass, remember: if these men did nothing technically illegal, that does not mean they are not guilty. It means industry-friendly laws do not protect us enough from fraudulent cowboys. They recklessly destroyed lives and families, and that should be remembered next time some fanatic of unregulated market policies starts mouthing off about how our schools, hospitals, and public and social services should be, if not directly privatized, at least "run like businesses." Businesses exist to make money, and if unchecked, will do so by the shortest route possible. The market may, in the long run, punish the most reckless, but at what cost to those caught up in their bad management? And, as Keynes said, in the long run we'll all be dead. I might remind everyone how much industry-friendly laws have been passed by our congress lately, and how much our administration is powered by people like Ken Lay. It explains a few things. Halliburton, Katrina... O, the confusion of our society! Our religions warn against greed, but our culture celebrates it and our economy makes it necessary. Which is more important?