July 21, 2004

'Tall Poppies'


This cartoon was inspired by Robert Tranciski's first editorial on Martha Stewart: Martha and the Tall Poppies.

There is a notorious saying in Australia: "You have to cut down the tall poppies." In other words, anyone who dares to poke his head above the crowd must be attacked, denigrated, and brought down to the common level. I don't know whether this "Tall Poppy Syndrome," as it is called, is really typical of Australian culture, but it is a widespread trend in American culture -- and Martha Stewart has long been one of its favorite targets. [...]

Stewart's lawyers suggest she is being targeted because she is a successful woman in a "man's world." But ask Bill Gates what kind of welcome a successful man can expect today. In fact, both are the target of a deeper hatred.

The basis for this hatred is not mere envy, but a moral code that makes that ugly emotion seem legitimate: the morality of altruism. We have been told for centuries that the weak, the incompetent, the most down-and-out bums on the street are the most worthy objects of our moral concern—while the highest achievers are at best the bum's servants, at worst his exploiters. The result is an upside-down morality, a code in which the better you are, the worse you are. The more you achieve, the more you are hated.

This hatred of the good is not merely ugly; it is destructive. A culture that attacks its highest achievers will mow down its tall poppies -- and end up with nothing but weeds.

With the recent sentencing of Stewart, Tracinski has revisited the issue with a number of good TIA Daily posts, including: Martha Stewart's Achievement.

If the average person has little knowledge of how a business works -- of how it is run, what it does, and what is required to run it successfully -- then it is easy for the left to smear business leaders as "parasites" who get rich by exploiting the "little guy." How are people to know any better, if they know nothing of the history of great business leaders; if they know nothing of the structure of a corporation; if they know nothing of the innovation, unwavering focus, and long-range thinking necessary to create and maintain a successful enterprise?

The result is that people act as if they can ignore the history and origins of a great American corporation, like Microsoft or Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, and treat it as if it just bloomed into existence as a fluke. And thus, the effort and virtue needed to create such a business seems, to them, just as vague and substanceless as the claims that insider trading is a terrible crime. The two ideas are equally devoid of substance and thus hold equal weight in people's minds.

We created one other Martha Stewart cartoon, and it turns out we were wrong about the effectiveness of her enemies if not their stature.

(Oh, and yes, we know the flower in the cartoon is not a poppy. It's a sunflower. There just wasn't enough room to write on a poppy.)

UPDATE: The Ayn Rand Institute has an excellent editorial on insider trading by Andrew Bernstein: The Injustice of Insider Trading Laws.

Martha Stewart was investigated for the "crime" of insider trading and later convicted of obstructing justice for lying to authorities during the investigation. But the questions no one is asking are: Should Martha even have been the subject of a criminal investigation in the first place? Should anyone be investigated for insider trading? Is insider trading objectively a crime?[...]

Contrary to the egalitarian premise giving rise to opposition to insider trading, individuals have no more right to information they have not earned than to wealth they have not earned. Should a talented analyst, for example, be forced to make his research publicly available if it would otherwise give him a competitive edge on the market? The mere fact of participating in the financial markets does not confer upon one a right to the hard-won knowledge of others.

In a free market, corporate policy on insider trading would be knowledge available to the public. If a potential investor held that the practice involved too much risk to the value of a stock, he could refuse to purchase the stock of companies permitting the practice. And companies desiring to prohibit the practice among their employees would be free do so by contractual agreement. They would have the moral and legal right to bring civil charges against an executive who violated his contractual obligations.

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Posted by Forkum at July 21, 2004 12:01 AM