It is widely purported, by those on the Left and fellow-travelers in the major media, that when the “free market” and “capitalism” are defended, “big business” is actually being discussed. This is not necessarily the case. Most would expect me to say emphatically that it is not the case, but I believe in telling the truth. Like other words and phrases, the “free market”, “capitalism” and “big business” have had their meaning distorted. There are those more interested in furthering their own aims than they are the truth. In this case, these deceivers fall into two groups: those opposed to free markets, and those opposed to capitalism.
Many on the Right tend use “free markets” and “capitalism” interchangeably because one is thought to be essential for the other. They are wrong to do so. Capitalism is a system that primarily uses the “profit motive” to distribute goods and services throughout an economy. The idea of the “free market” is the belief that an individual has the right to conduct trade with any other individual without government interference. Now there are other economic systems which allow profits, but only capitalism can truly be married to “free markets.” However, capitalism can exist without “free markets.”
All economic systems produce goods and services. People must be fed, sheltered and clothed. These can be done either by individuals or by collective enterprises. The bigger the economy and the more complex the products produced, the larger these enterprises must become. Economies of scale and concentration of expertise are required for large-scale enterprises to supply those things necessary for a growing, progressing human population, regardless of system. In most economic systems these enterprises are called “big businesses“.
Now, who are those opposed to free markets? You may be surprised to find some of the biggest opponents are businesses. Seems counterintuitive doesn’t it? How can any business be against an open market? Well, the purpose of any business is to maximize shareholder value. If a business can do this by restricting competition, then that is what it will do, if possible. The managers of a business are not ideological, their priority is profit maximization. People in business believe in the profit motive; therefore, capitalism; just not necessarily the free market.
Another group opposed to free markets is politicians. Politicians in all parties seek ways to get, hold and expand their power. One method for this is to restrict markets. These restrictions are alterable in any number of ways and their expansion or adjustments are opportunities for influence peddling to interested persons. All those affected by the restrictions, positively or negatively, have a reason to seek the favor of politicians. These politicians can get campaign donations, under-the-table deals, promises of future jobs, etc. and most important to them, their ass kissed.
Politicians live to have people need them so that they can exert power over them. “Big Business” is the perfect foil for the politician. These businesses can be extorted for favors while simultaneously used as scapegoats for all that is wrong with the economy (national or local), with employment, with financial markets, with health care, with transportation, with energy policy, with the environment, etc. This behavior leads to further attempts by these businesses to influence the politician, sometimes preemptively, against stop targeting them.
Microsoft is the perfect example of this phenomenon. In 1990s, Microsoft had the vast majority of the PC operating system software market, but had almost no presence in Washington, DC. However, its competitors began spending money on lobbying efforts in DC in an attempt to get the government to turn its attention to this financial giant. As a result, Microsoft was targeted by the US government for anti-trust violations. In addition to having their product market restricted, Microsoft began spending vast sums on lobbyist and now has a large, permanent presence in DC to prevent future attacks on its business. The only winners were the politicians and their campaign contributors.
Another example is Altria (formerly Phillip Morris Companies Inc), the owner of the tobacco company Phillip Morris USA (PM), which manufactures the Marlboro brand of cigarettes. Marlboro is the largest selling brand of cigarettes in the US, resulting in PM being the biggest tobacco company. In the ‘90s PM began lobbying the US government for the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to take control of the regulation of the tobacco industry. Tobacco and alcohol manufacturers were purposely excluded from the Pure Food and Drug Act (1908) which established the FDA. PM wanted the FDA to regulate tobacco, because it knew the resulting limitations on product marketing would help prevent competitors from eating into their market share and boost their profits. PM spent $101 million on lobbying from 1998 to 2004. President Obama signed the law changing regulatory authority in 2009. Once again, the winners were politicians and their contributors.
Those who believe in Free Market Capitalism have neither a love nor hate for “big business”. We have a love for freedom and for the consumer. Businesses exist to produce things consumers want at a profit. The consumers are protected by the competition of an open market, which prevents any one company from permanently monopolizing that market. Government should act as a disinterested third-party. It should police the market only for anti-competitive business practices resulting in actual damages to consumers. It should not prop up inferior competitors, or target companies whose only crime is being successful. Unnecessary government interference has a detrimental effect on the market and the consumers.
Finally, there are people on the Left who do not believe Capitalism is a “moral” economic system. They protest against the meetings of the World Trade Organization and G-10. They hope to turn public opinion against the system by “exposing” the worst abuses of “big business”. They have every right to do so, and, inadvertently, their exposes can actually strengthen the market. Most are too ignorant to realize free market capitalism is premised upon “perfect knowledge” and the more we learn of how some companies operate the better for the market. So, keep it up guys. Just tell the complete truth more often. OK?
I’ve had a thought percolating for quite a while now. However, it wasn’t until the passing of Ted Kennedy that it finally gelled into a thesis. Here it goes: “Shameless hypocrisy is a hallmark of the Left.” I don’t know if it’s ever been said straight out like this (If it has, please let me know. I want to give attribution.). I’m not saying I’m the first to point out the Left’s hypocrisy. The evidence is everywhere, and each of us can name countless examples.
I’m not the first to say how completely shameless their phoniness has been. Like a mountain on the landscape, it’s a permanent presence. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a hypocritical politician, activist, theoretician or philosophy on the Left. First and foremost, what kind of political theory believes giving “power to the people” means taking away the individual’s economic, medical, educational, philosophic decision-making powers? It is the height of hypocrisy, and brazenly so.
Hell, the life of Ted Kennedy was a parade of shameless hypocrisy. A man, who “championed the poor,” born to and living amongst privilege. A man whose vast financial holdings were in tax sheltered investments, yet who railed against the rich and called for increased taxes. A man who cared for “the people,” yet allowed a woman to die, unaided in his own car. A man, who preached about our responsibility to our fellow-man, yet took no responsibility for how his actions affected others. The leading proponent of “health care reform” was the creator of the hated HMO. Well, you get the point.
I’m not saying hypocrisy is unique to the Left. Hypocrites exist on both sides of the political spectrum. However, on the Right they are savaged when discovered. Ended careers litter the political highway as a testament to our impatience for them. Only on the Left are hypocrites honored and promoted.
Who are the Left’s heroes? Bill Clinton — the man was somehow a serial philanderer and a promoter “women’s rights.” Hilary Clinton — the model “woman of the Left” who rode her husband’s coattails to power while allowing him to disrespect and dishonor her. President Obama — a “racial healer” who attended a racist’s church for 20 years. Al Gore — the “environmental savior” who personally consumes more energy than a small town. How many of the Left’s leaders have gone to elite universities, avoided taxes, become rich while in office or as a result of connections made while in office, sent their kids to private schools, shook down corporations for sweetheart deals or campaign contributions, used the “unfair” US healthcare system to extend their lives, and left a carbon footprint the size of the Jolly Green Giant?
Yet, who are the Left’s “bogeymen” on the Right? Ronald Reagan — attacked as an “amiable dunce,” “just acting,” or “asleep at the wheel,” but somehow freed hundreds of millions of people and brought the world back from the brink of Armageddon. George W. Bush — an “inarticulate idiot” who freed tens of millions of people, including the half of these populations who were basically treated as chattel, women. Sarah Palin — another “brainless twit,” a woman who rose from obscurity to become the governor of her state through her own actions and under her own terms, and a true “feminist.”
However, it’s not just that the Left allows their politicians to remain in office once the hypocrisy is discovered. No, the Left uses hypocrisy as a political tool, and does so shamelessly. It can be seen as simple expediency: Do whatever is necessary to advance your side’s pursuit of power. However, what does that say about your ideology if all principles can be pushed aside in the accumulation of power? “What have you gained if you’ve lost your soul?” Their arguments reflect no guiding principles save the pursuit of power for its own sake.
Try having a consistent constitutional argument with a leftist. They claim unenumerated rights are discernible within the document, but deny those rights clearly enumerated. They favor federalizing constitutional rights, or demand states’ rights, whichever is convenient and necessary at the moment to expand government power. They purport that the Commerce Clause allows the federal government to regulate almost all activity within the states, but that the federal government can’t regulate medical marijuana within a state. They will argue that the only way to assure non-discrimination is to mandate discrimination. They claim the “right to bear arms” and the “takings clause” to be only in regard to the federal government, while their favored rights are enforced down to the local level (i.e. the freedom of religion equals a ban on public religious ceremonies).
The only continuing threads in leftist thought are the accumulation of government power (federal preferred, but state/local will suffice) and the undermining of the civil society (the public arena outside government purview). Unfortunately, one ultimately precedes the other. Historically, the reduction of a community’s religiosity and family centeredness leads to an expansion in government to fill the vacuum left in those areas of society. Chicken or egg?
Leftist politicians could not get in political office in America without the aid of shameless hypocrisy. The Left couldn’t gain power if its true creed were known. “Give us ever more power over your life. You don’t know, and can never know, how to properly take care of yourself. Let us make those decisions for you. Some things are too important for you to decide.” It’s not exactly a winning slogan. Without unapologetic lies and obfuscation, what do they really have? All that remains is a never-ending drive for further government control.
I was having a discussion with a physician who’s on call at an Emergency Room, as a surgeon. We went back and forth over the different proposals, and I got him to admit that the Democrat’s plan was not ideal. However, he insisted that something has to be done to improve the current situation because of the hardship it causes doctors. He explained to me that Emergency Room physicians have to contend with the following situation:
1. If a hospital receives federal Medicaid/ Medicare dollars, they must admit all patients, regardless of ability to pay.
2. Physicians must treat all patients.
3. Physicians bill these patients separately from the hospital itself.
4. If patient has no third-party payer (insurance, Medicaid or Medicare), then the doctor must attempt to recover fees on his own.
5. Recovery rates are very low.
I was thinking to myself, “Man, is this a screwed up system of payment for the physician or what? He has no control over his client. No proof of ability to pay. Must take all comers. No compensation by the hospital. Must seek reimbursement himself. This is terrible.”
I couldn’t imagine an automotive shop operating under that model. The mechanic would have to do the work not knowing if the client was going to pay or not. If they didn’t, he was screwed. He ‘d then have to go after the client himself trying to get his money.
I began to commiserate with him. I was telling him what a terrible compensation model it was. My goodness, the law requires him to possibly work for free. Suddenly, he acted as if I had offended him in some way. He asked, “Do you think I treat these patients because the law requires it? I’m a DOCTOR! I took an oath to heal the sick. I’d see to these patients no matter what the law says.”
Suddenly a light bulb went off. He’s acting according to his conscience. He’s following his own moral code when he treats these possibly indigent patients. His personal reward is of no consequence in this situation.
What do you know? He turns out to be a another self-righteous prig. Don’t you dare tell me how selfless and moral you are. You want to take money from others by force of law to compensate you for the cost of practicing your morality. If it’s really that important to you, then just be happy for the deed you perform, no matter the price you pay. Then, I’ll thank you for your avocation. Otherwise, quit whining.
Before I even get started, let’s get something clear. We must get our fiscal house in order. To do this we must get our budget deficits to a manageable level and on a downward trajectory. If we have any hope of changing direction, we have to cut federal expenditures, which means only one thing, reducing transfers of wealth: the so-called “entitlements,” and the funding of state and local governments. This definitely means no expansion of the welfare state through additional programs, such as increased federal involvement in health care.
That being said, we all know: You’re only truly concerned about your credit score or keeping your creditors happy when you’re planning on borrowing more money. So, we need to put that out of our head. We cannot borrow our way back to economic health. It’s what’s gotten us into this situation in the first, second and third places. So, playing “nice” with China is the last thing about which we should worry.
It drives me up the wall every time I hear some supposed “wise man” tell us how China has us over a barrel due to the vast quantities of U.S. Government debt they hold. According to them, American influence and actions around the world are constrained because one country, a competitor on the world stage, holds our mortgage. Is this international emasculation really the case? Why don’t we break this argument down?
1) China is a competitor for world power. You’re kidding me, right? A country whose GDP is one-third of ours (measured in exchange-rate terms) is a threat to us? Remember, China’s national income is spread among 1.3 billion people. Do the math. It means each of their “citizens” generates about one-twelfth the income as do each of ours. So yeah, they have a lot of people, but each one produces very little value. It would be like fearing Ukraine, El Salvador, or Egypt.
2) China has the largest population in the world. Yes, they do have a lot of people, and due to that large, poor population, they long ago instituted a one child policy. This population control policy has had the desired effect, and there are now less young people than old. The average age of the Chinese is following the path of Europe’s. Before the end of the century, China’s population will be in decline and will bear the costs of an aging people.
3) China’s is a huge trading partner with America. Export-based economies are built on one of two things: commodities or labor “efficiency.” In China’s case, they have leveraged their low labor costs and economies of scale to build an oversized industrial base. In doing so, they have made the same mistake Japan and others have made before them. They have failed to create a domestic consumer market sufficient to maintain their economy in the down times of the international business cycle. Neither the size of nor the poverty of your population will guarantee an indefinite advantage based solely upon labor costs, as opposed to productivity. Someone is always poorer than you are.
4) Trade between the U.S. and China is lopsided in China’s favor. A major disadvantage of export-based economies is large, recurring current account “surpluses.” Gee, haven’t we always heard that’s a great thing? Isn’t it terrible that we’ve been running these current account “deficits” for decades now? No. In reality, there are no deficits or surpluses. The money must ultimately go somewhere, and that somewhere is the home country. “Surpluses” must be spent in the originating country, or else you’re sitting on a virtually worthless stack of paper, which by the way is loosing value due to both inflation and time-value.
As an example, let’s say I trade with Bob, who only pays me in “Bob dollars” for the things he buys. Ultimately, I have to buy stuff from Bob, or from someone else who does, to realize my value for the items I’ve sold. If not, what am I going to do with these “Bob dollars”? Like Monopoly money, it’s worthless outside its context. Now, those things could be “Bob things,” “Bob stock” or “Bob debt.” Regardless, Bob’s getting his money, his value, returned to him. As long as Bob controls the trading currency, Bob cannot really lose.
5) China should be buying consumable items to even our trade imbalance. Money invested in any vehicle puts liquidity into our markets. No matter where it’s invested, it has a positive effect by freeing up capital from other areas of the economy. It actually keeps interest rates down by lessening competition for available capital. If that money were spent on consumables, it could actually raise costs to consumers by increasing demand.
6) We can’t have foreigners buying up U.S. investments and properties. Why not? What are they going to do with them? They’re only worth what they are because they’re where they are. They can’t take it with them. How much influence can these purchases have? This is a sovereign nation. There are 300 million people here. It’s not like we’ll let someone run roughshod over us because of some property ownership. Remember what happened to Japan? Everyone was all worried about them in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s. Anyone worried now?
7) It’s dangerous for China to hold so much U.S. Government debt. How so? Is it because they’ll influence decision makers worried about a big sell off of their stake? If so, then it sounds like more of a problem with our politicians. Any elected official who worries about China’s holdings should be sent home. If they’ve authorized so much debt that their decisions can be affected by just one country, they were not thinking long-term and were acting foolishly. U.S. interests are, or should be, the first priority of any public official. To behave otherwise is tantamount to treason.
8) What happens if China decides to make an aggressive move financially? First, any major dump of U.S. treasuries will have an adverse effect on the remainder of China’s holdings. Second, this will cause a devaluation in others’ holdings as well. Third, it will dry up the market for our debt. Fourth, the current government will continue to spend, in effect printing money, which will cause a devaluation of the dollar and a dramatic increase in inflation. Fifth, in an attempt to salvage worth, foreign investors will dump all dollar denominated securities thereby driving all markets further down. Rosy scenario, huh?
So, how can we prevent China from negatively affecting our politics and our economy? That’s easy. Let it be known, in no uncertain terms, that we will not allow such a thing to occur. We would view any such behavior as an act of war. We need to make an official statement, something similar to this:
A notice to the Republic of China – In the event of sale, by your government, your citizens and/ or your agents, of greater than 5% of your current United States Treasury holdings in one month’s time, the following actions will result:
A. We shall disregard all sales in excess of that allotment. We shall not recognize the transaction(s) as having occurred. The unfortunate purchaser(s) shall not receive interest payments nor be allowed to redeem the debt;
B. We shall cease to recognize the remaining United States debt held by the Republic of China, its citizens and its agents. The debt shall no longer be redeemable, nor shall interest be paid on it;
C. All diplomats, personnel, and other citizens of the Republic of China shall be expelled from the United States within 24 hours. Any person remaining unlawfully in the United States shall be considered an illegal alien combatant;
D. Any third-party who attempts to arbitrage unrecognized debt in an attempt to have it redeemed shall be treated as a criminal, subject to United States’ law, and risks causing non-recognition of their nation’s and their fellow citizen’s holdings;
E. Any public and/ or private holdings, in the United States, its territories and on the high seas, of the Republic of China, its citizens or its agents shall be subject to immediate seizure;
F. Any attempt by a nation or individual to aid the Republic of China, its agents or its citizens against the United States shall be treated as an act of war;
G. Any and all United States Treasury debt legitimately held by non-aggressor nations, their citizens and their agents shall be fully recognized by the United States.
The beauty of this proposal is that it gives a very stern warning to those who need it, but if used it punishes only the guilty. China and its people have every right to divest themselves of U.S. government debt, if that is their wish. They may do so in a slow even manner, in quantities the market can absorb. What they don’t have is the right to destabilize (or to threaten to destabilize) the U.S. economy by playing geo-political games with our sovereign debt. If we allowed any country to endanger us, we would be foolhardy at best, suicidal at worst.
Ideally, we want trade with everyone who sees it as mutually beneficial. Also, we should not exclude anyone from any of our markets when they have capital to invest. However, these markets exist for investment purposes only. They are not to be used as tools against us. That message should be made loud and clear.
Government is a state of human nature. Like family, it always exists in some form, whether we’ve chosen it or not.
Consider that for a moment.
At its most basic, government is a set of rules by which we deal with other humans. If you have two humans who know of each other’s existence and who are in proximity to one another, you have government. It can be nothing more than “I’ll not go into your area. You don’t come into mine.” Conversely, it can be “You’ll do as I say, and give me some of your stuff.” to which “I am afraid of you and will acquiesce.”
If men treated each other respectfully, taking only what was theirs to take, government, as an institution, would be negligible. Do you need police when nothing is stolen, lives are not taken nor property trespassed? How many courts are needed when people take responsibility for their own actions? What bureaucrats are necessary when income is not redistributed, but instead held by its earner? What need for taxation when the job of government is done by the governed?
We generally consider government to be a mutually beneficial, willful creation of man. It can be, but it hasn’t always been. For most of our existence it has been, for most people, something forced upon them. From earliest history, we know only of those who ruled over others. The clan leader, chieftain, or king was the strongman who imposed his will upon clan, tribe, or kingdom. All others bent to his rule. His word was law.
The propensity for man to dominate is innate. It is who we are. We try to control things, and often others. “Here’s some land. It looks good. I’ll take it.” How many times in history has this happened? How often was that same land already claimed by others? These encounters probably went one of three ways:
“Oops, my bad. No harm, no foul, right?”
“OK. I’ll fight you for it.”
“Please, don’t kill me! Do my children have to be slaves, too?”
Even those systems we look to as “enlightened” were in fact far from it. The demos of Ancient Greece was not the entire population. It was in practice an enlarged oligarchy or aristocracy, available only to some men. Only around ten percent of the Athenian population held citizenship. If you were not a citizen, you were little better than slaves, and were in no way represented. Women were seen only as extensions of their men, and had no rights of their own.
The publicus of Rome was a much larger body of people than was the Greek demos, but citizenship was held by only a minority of Romans. It too was largely controlled by an aristocracy, patricians. The common citizen, plebian, had to have fealty to a member of this group, a Pater familias, who ruled and represented his extended “family” and was either a Senator or loyal to one. The Roman Senate was “representative” only in a way similar to the English House of Lords before the advent of the Commons. The plebian ostensibly had a voice in direct democracy, the assemblies, but it was limited in scope and any true authority was eventually removed to the Senate.
Ultimately, these systems which allowed participation of the governed in government, limited as it might have been, crumbled under the seemingly inexorable effects of man and time in society. As witnessed repeatedly in history these men succumbed to the impulse to dominate. They were either overthrown from without, or they willingly gave up power to a leader, be it Tyrant or Caesar. Here is demonstrated the other side of domination in man: Given the right circumstances, all men may feel the need to be dominated.
The desire to be led, to be told what to do and how to do it, is evidenced in all societies. Some cultures, particularly traditionalist societies, have built entire systems around mores and rules which inculcate a belief in the necessity to be lead, to submit to the authority of others. Other societies, such as ours, have developed a culture where the individual is taught to find his own way and to bridle at the bit of authority. Regardless, every people have felt it necessary at some point to give control to an overarching power.
Throughout history, we have seen the people grant near absolute power to a One. What commonality has there been to these episodes? It has always been in times of perceived mortal danger. When we are in fear for our very existence, we want something to ease our worries and someone to take the reins from us. Caesar, Cromwell, Napoleon, Mussolini, Stalin, Churchill, Roosevelt. These men, their ideas, and their governments were allowed to take control because the people believed it was necessary for survival.
The ability for a “strongman” to dominate in times of trouble is oft touched upon in political history and theory. Less discussed is this phenomenon’s half-brother, the human preference for security over liberty. It is a tool used constantly to slowly strip away our freedoms in exchange for the perceived lessening of risk. Like the proverbial frog in a pot, we allow our liberties to slowly cook away in the nice, warm bath of government.
Those who seek to subjugate their fellow-man have seized upon our aversion to risk as the means to induce us toward our own imprisonment. By making us fearful, they can enact laws and regulations restricting our actions and liberties. They want us to believe that if we give up certain small freedoms, our lives will be safer, healthier and longer. “Just put on this straightjacket and your life will be better.” At no point are you reminded that even a life lived in a rubber room eventually comes to an end. What possible life have you traded for “safety?” Was it really worth the cost?
Most people only see today. The scope of history to them is no longer that the length of their own lives. Those of us fortunate to be born in a nation conceived with the ideals
that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,
should most jealously guard these rights. We should honor the sacrifices made by those who came before us and guaranteed for us these God-given rights. We must not repeat the mistakes of history and allow fleeting, momentary needs to undermine the base upon which our mansion of liberty is based.