Michael Bray

Author of A Time To Kill

Letter to a Candidate in 2007

7 December 2007
A Letter to Jim Fife:

It was good to see you at the basketball game. And I was glad to hear that you are seeking to serve as a County Commissioner. That office has been on my mind a lot in recent months as the casino debacle has been moving upon us. That is my primary concern for this County. Perhaps your candidacy can serve to invigorate opposition. That is my suggestion and hope.

Your description of yourself as a Conservative is attractive, although the reference of the term seems to change with the times. Conservatives of today are the Liberals of a decade ago and we continue to drift from our Christian culture which we are failing to conserve. But I would like to mention, again, the matter of the casino and the Commissioners derelict response to date.

Economic blessings was the argument given by each Commissioner whenever he spoke favorably about the prospect. Somehow, it is supposed, we must risk bringing great harm to citizens – enticing the weak to the ravages of gambling addiction – because we imagine we are in economic need.

And does not this faithlessness and willing to do wrong for the “good” of the promise of “economic blessing” speak to the matter of the people’s Faith and character? (On the contrary, it was a vibrant Christian Faith dominating American culture which the German sociologist, Max Weber writing a centennial ago, credited as the source for the Protestant Work Ethic and the rise of free enterprise and capitalism to which the industrialized world owes its existence.)

The “economic conservative” calls to mind the famous economist, Adam Smith, that champion of free enterprise and capitalism whom we read about in our school books. He expressed a faith in an “invisible hand” which guided the affairs of nations, in contrast to the modern Communist notion of thoroughly “big government” in which the state was everything (even as Engels said of it, “God walking on earth”). Yes, the State was God because there is no real God who provides for His creatures. And the state must calculate and regulate everything. And if it seems that there is no way for income to increase, well, we have to find a way – even if that way is immoral addiction propagating gambling.

He referred to this invisible hand on many occasion in both The Theory of Moral Sentiments and in Wealth of Nations. He speaks of the fact that citizens will seek their own gain as they produce in a free market, but the result is the benefit of all – something not even intended, necessarily by the industrious citizen. This provision is the result of the divine and providential “invisible hand.”

It is that hand of God which the modernist, whether Republican or Democrat, has forgotten. He looks to the security promised in the revenues produced by a gambling enterprise because he cannot trust God to provide by other means.

Beyond the faithlessness of the Commissioners is the overt evil they propose to be party to. I say evil not as a matter of a personal indulgence in the entertainment of singing, dancing, drinking, and card playing. Such leisurely amusements, whether morally doable in moderation, are not at issue here. The fact of the matter is that those who advocate for public gambling without any provision for preventing the problem gambler or the pathological gambler from doing harm to himself and his family are doing wrong. Such leaders commit a breach of the public trust by exposing families to the hardship that comes from the squandering of the family’s money by derelict (addicted) fathers or mothers. Such leaders have forgotten that the criminalization of gambling in our nation’s history was brought about not for matters of personal piety but to PROTECT THE WEAK. There are people who are vulnerable to addiction. This is a fact recognized by sociologists, psychiatrists, and psychologists. It is for the sake of those who with such weakness that gambling has been outlawed. It has been properly deemed to a blight to society. That is the argument to be made against its decriminalization in our state and its establishment in Clinton County.

One may consider the point by analogy with the regulations surrounding investment in stocks. (A comparison of gambling to such investments has been made by Commissioner Riley, ironically, in defense of gambling in Clinton County.) But the Security and Exchange Commission requires disclosure from the buyer (gambler) as the primary means of protecting the public. This point was made 1998 by Professor David S. Ruder (Northwestern University School of Law and former Chairman of the United States Securities ad Exchange Commission) in his testimony before Congress’s two-year National Gambling Impact Study Commission.

Prof. Ruder noted that the SEC has rules to protect investors who are not financially sophisticated. The NASD (National Association of Securities Dealers) declares members’ sales efforts to be deficient if recommendations of speculative, low-priced securities are made to a customer without an attempt to discover the customer’s financial situation, investment experience, and investment objectives. The NASD member must determine, for example, if penny stocks or options are suitable for the investor because of the possibility of loss of money. The responsibility for suitability lies, not with the investor, but, with the broker. Professor Ruder argued ably before the NGISC that the public interest would benefit if some of the lessons from the securities industry were applied to gambling. He recommended “Consideration should be given to finding ways to protect those who are either financially unsophisticated or unable to bear the risk of loss, such as by restricting access to gambling establishments or access to certain kinds of gambling.”

When a gambling addict spends his child support money at the casino or another puts his family’s house into foreclosure, or another goes bankrupt and shoots himself, what responsibility do Clinton County leaders and citizens bear for their part in allowing the casino to operate? The bartender can be held responsible if he fails to refrain from serving the drunkard who then drives his car to someone’s death. Any plans to cut off the pathological gambler who spends his money night after night? Any limitation on losses?

Don’t count on any support from the casino developers on this one. Their profits depend upon those addicts whom they exploit. And what thought have our Commissioners given to this? They are apparently indifferent to the exploitation of the weak as long as the promised revenues come in. Good intentions and foolish faithlessness have yielded effective treachery.

We haven’t heard many voices in opposition to this scourge in the name of protecting the weak. (That is usually the bailiwick of the Democrats but they are overwhelmingly quiet on this one.)

Well, Jim, I have been ranting a bit. But I do have a reason for it. I hope you can consider making this issue one which may even precede your formal campaign for office. You could champion it and it might well serve your efforts to reach the Commissioner office.

Sometimes there is an issue that is THE ISSUE of a given time and place. I do believe that this is THE PIVOTAL ISSUE which our county is facing. Perhaps you are one that divine Providence would use to get this County off this crooked road.


Michael Bray

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