Joan Smith: How dare we, the little people, judge the mighty Blacks!

'Businessmen shift a lot of dirt in order to find gold,' she sighed
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Far from being abashed, Black put out a statement through his lawyers asserting his complete innocence. Perhaps he shares his wife's view that tall-poppy syndrome is sweeping the US, creating a situation in which entrepreneurial vision is penalised by greedy little people with crazed ideas about equality and fairness. As Lady Black remarked, regulating market forces is based on a fundamental error, replacing the amorality of the free market with the immorality of a regulated society: "What results is theft: you rob the janitors to pay the cleaning woman."

I imagine that is just what the couple were striving to avoid when Hollinger allegedly picked up the bill for their chefs, butlers, footmen and security guards, as well as agreeing to pay the tip Lady Black gave to a doorman at a New York department store. It's hard to imagine two people who have jointly offered more hostages to fortune, both in terms of showing off and of an almost paranoid disdain for anyone who didn't have the good fortune to share their opulent lifestyle. Long before she married Conrad Black, Amiel was using her columns to develop an ideological justification for multi-millionaires. In what now reads like a bit of verbal foreplay, she once thundered in Maclean's magazine: "We have spent like drunken sailors in order to fill the sense of 'entitlement' that our weak-tea socialism has created."

Her husband's response was to run his company as a "corporate kleptocracy". The company was already suing for the return of $425m (£250m) before last week's criminal charges, and Black's defiant reaction has prompted some commentators to suggest he is in denial about the gravity of his situation. My guess is that it is beyond his comprehension: Black appears to have a cast-iron sense of entitlement, contempt for the rules that ordinary people have to observe and a degree of self-belief that verges on the deranged. These traits are attested to in the indictment, which alleges that Black charged the company more than $40,000 (£23,000) for his wife's surprise birthday party and flatly refused when he was asked by its accountants to reimburse the cost of using the company's jet to fly himself and Lady Black to the South Pacific.

Envy and resentment towards wealthy people are among her favourite themes, and the fact that the investigation has been led by Patrick Fitzgerald, the man responsible for the indictment of former White House aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby, can only have bolstered the belief that Black is the victim of a conspiracy. "Businessmen shift a lot of dirt in order to find gold," Lady Black sighed, in an attempt to explain why so many have abrasive personalities. The fact that such a modern-day Titan as her husband now faces up to 40 years in prison, if convicted on all charges, is clearly a testament not to his character flaws but everybody else's rank ingratitude.