On Ralph Lauren’s agreement with prosecutors to settle charges under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act that its agents improperly bribed officials in Argentina to allow goods to move through trade channels: “Disgorge is a curious description. The $593,000 is the amount they paid out in bribes, not the amount they took in. Disgorge usually refers to the fruits of crime, but instead refers here to the perverse perspective of our government in keeping American corporations pure as the driven snow while minor warlords elsewhere demand their piece of the pie. Whether it’s money in or out, gained or lost, or even neither existing nor realized, it’s all money the government demands be disgorged.” [Scott Greenfield] More on the case: Lawrence Cunningham, FCPA Professor.
Following a worldwide outcry, Argentina has promised to lift restrictions on the importation of foreign books, which had purportedly been based on fear of dangerous lead content in the ink. According to a report by my Cato colleague Juan Carlos Hidalgo:
“If you put your finger in your mouth after paging through a book, that can be dangerous,” said Juan Carlos Sacco, the vice-president of an industrialist organization that supports the measure.
MercoPress carries reporting in English translation on the original measure and on the promised reversal. Under the rule of President Cristina Fernandez, the Argentine government has taken a number of steps considered hostile to press critics, including controls on the newsprint business, and criminal charges against economists who report that prices are rising faster than the official inflation index.
Where did the Argentine officials get the idea that lead in book inks might be enough of a public health problem to justify drastic government action? Maybe from the U.S. Congress. As I explained in this City Journal piece, the notoriously extreme and poorly drafted 2008 CPSIA law imposed across-the-board requirements for lead testing of older children’s products, with the result that, according to guidance from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, it was considered doubtfully lawful to sell or distribute most pre-1985 books for children. That set of restrictions was eventually relaxed, following a massive outcry from dealers, publishers, libraries and lovers of children’s books.
Economic liberty intertwined with civil liberty, part 7,914,886: “The paper used to produce newspapers came under government control in Argentina on Thursday, in a long-sought victory for President Cristina Fernandez in her dispute with the country’s opposition media,” reported AP last month. More from the BBC, and earlier from my Cato colleague Juan Carlos Hidalgo.
Independent papers in the South American republic are quite right to fear for their future, if earlier ventures into government newsprint control are any indication. Dictator Juan Peron used similar methods to muzzle the press, while in Mexico for decades governments of the ruling PRI closely controlled newsprint allocation, a power they were not hesitant to use to bring excessively independent publishers to heel. It came as an important move toward Mexican political liberalization in 1990 when the Salinas government did away with the controls, by allowing free importation of newsprint to any buyers subject to a modest tariff.
Significantly, the measure just signed by Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner inserts the government directly as a prospective owner of the business and contains provisions on newsprint imports as well. Per Impunity Watch:
Clarins newspaper notes that there are a number of disturbing aspects to the bill. First is the passage that allows for the state to unilaterally take a majority share of the company as the newsprint distribution is now classified a national interest. Also of concerns is the portion that would permit the Economy Minister to determine how much newsprint to import, establishing government quotas that have never before existed….
Concurrent with the media bill passage is a new anti-terrorism bill that classifies certain “economic crimes,” including certain actions taken by the media, as terrorist acts. The bill states that “economic terrorist acts” are those done with an intent to terrorize the general population.
Whether relatedly or not, the Argentine government last year launched prosecutions of independent economists who have asserted that the country’s actual inflation rate is higher than that reported by the government (& Coyote).