Political polorization may be the fashionable meme, but sweet, bipartisan fellowship still reigns in the arenas that matter.
The conventional liberal wisdom about free markets and governmental regulation, is that unfettered free markets need to be reined in by the government for the protection of the poor and the powerless, against the depredations of corporate greed. But when you look at the real-world regulations imposed by the government on the free market, it looks more like their primary purpose is to serve corporate greed and protect corporate monopolies.
After all, the poor, the sick, the uninsured, and those struggling to establish small businesses, are not major contributors to national political campaigns, whereas, the music business, the credit card industry, the lawyers, the software industry, the education industry, the medical industry, the insurance industry, and the political industry (now being protected by the McCain-Feingold Incumbent Protection Act), among many others, are major contributors.
Why did President George W. Bush, much-maligned for being excessively conservative, sign the steel tariff, the agricultural subsidies (which primarily go to huge ag-industry companies), the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill, the DMCA, with complete bi-partisan support, in this supposedly extremely polarized political environment?
I’ll tell you why. The most dangerous, real flaw in the whole theory of free market capitalism, is that MONEY TALKS! And who money talks to are the politicians. And what they talk about, is how the government can pass laws that will help the donors make more money and kill off their competition.
My previous post on the music monopoly very briefly sketched out a few of the ways in which large corporations pay off politicians to enact legislation to protect their monopolies. For example, Candace Corrigan, with her audio pod-casting blog, The Nashville Nobody Knows, is, without payment of any kind, attempting to give exposure to incredible musical artists who are unable to climb over, or tunnel under, the high walls of the music business empire. To accomplish this free market service, she must pay exorbitant fees to ASCAP, BMI, and SEASAC. She is forbidden to mention, in text, the title of any song that is played within one of her interviews. If she plays more than 30 seconds of a song, she must live in fear of the RIAA. She must fill out forms on a quarterly basis of how many people listened to all of her interviews that included a song. Songs and artists, it must be pointed out, that have been ignored and buried by the very same big record labels and radio conglomerates that are paying for the legislation that places this burden upon her. Even the tiny handful of artists that strike it rich, like Britney Spears and Metallica, and worthies like Bob Dylan and Beatles, are shamelessly exploited by the cabal of the industry and the government. Large as their paychecks are, they are but a tiny fraction of the profits generated by their music.
The music industry is not the exception. It is the rule. Once your business has reached a certain size, the logical next step is to make large campaign contributions to pay for laws that will protect your position. Ironically, the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation is yet another example of established power and wealth enacting laws to stifle the competition, in this case to protect the re-election of incumbents. One hand washes the other.
Why is a PHD nobel prize winner in physics, or a CEO with 30 years of experience, barred from teaching in a public high school? Because he (or she) hasn’t taken a couple of years of dumb educational courses and qualified for a teaching certificate. Because the National Education Association is a major contributor to Democratic campaign coffers. Why is Microsoft let off scot-free after committing blatantly illegal acts to destroy their competition? Because Microsoft is a major campaign contributor and lobbyist to the Republican Party.
The current bankruptcy “reform” law that is about to pass through Congress is another egregious example. I watched the Fox News Brit Hume roundtable discussion about it last night. Everyone thought it was perfectly reasonable that those with income above the median in their states should have to repay at least some of their debt, instead of ducking it entirely. And it is reasonable. But what about this. I get half a dozen solicitations a week, offering me pre-approved credit cards at 0% interest for a year, with a very generous credit line. And I don’t even have a job. Is there anything in the bill about that? Of course there isn’t. This bill isn’t about sane, fair regulation of the abuses of the credit industry. It’s about increased profits for Visa and Mastercard. The epidemic of bankruptcy is the antidote to the cynical, extension of excessive credit to those who can’t afford it. No governmental regulation required.
The conventional debate is between “liberals” who want more regulation of rampant, brutal capitalism, and “conservatives” who want a free, unregulated, capitalistic economy. But the reality is that government regulation is a phenomenally bi-partisan affair that is almost entirely in the service of corporate and political greed. I hate to sound like Ralph Nader, whom I despise, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day. He’s wrong about almost everything, including government regulation, but he’s right that money is a distorting influence on our political economy.
The blogosphere is now threatened, how seriously is not yet clear, by FEC and court interpretations of clear language in the McCain-Feingold act that would categorize mention of candidate’s names and links to their websites, as campaign contributions, therefore subject to stringent regulation. When I was a mind-frozen leftist, I was horrified at the Supreme Court ruling that money = speech. But, you know what, money does equal speech. In a free market, capitalist world, you can’t take the money out of speech without taking the speech out of speech. The real solution to campaign finance reform is not to take money out of politics, but rather to make the money, and the politics, transparent. If any citizen can have free, unfettered access to information, convenientally and freely available, as to who is paying what to whom, then you have all the campaign finance reform that you need, assuming you believe in democracy. Where is the government program to provide this information, searchable, and obviously displayed? It doesn’t exist. To the extent it does exist, it exists in the blogosphere, which the advocates of “reform” are attempting to silence, if they think they can get away with it. I agree with Roger Simon that they will probably realize it’s a losing proposition, but I am quite certain that we won’t be seeing a tax-supported website anytime soon that clearly shows who is getting what from big-time political contributors, and how the recipients have voted on relevant legislation.
So what’s the solution? There is no panacea, no constitutional or legislative fix that will prevent corporate lobbyists from buying bad laws to protect monopolies and enhance profits, like the recent laws in Pennsylvania and Illinois that forbid cities from establishing low-cost wireless networks. The only way to fight it is with information, and lots of it, readily available and easy to understand. And it’s not going to come from the mainstream media. They are part of the problem. It falls to the blogosphere to fill the vacuum with efforts like Glenn Reynold’s call for a cross-blogosphere coalition to oppose the bankruptcy bill. Nobody else is going to do it.