Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"Deregulation of things that once were public trusts inevitably leads to bigness and virtual monopolies."

Save our corpocracy


Seattle Post Intelligencer
Copyright 2008

WACO, Texas -- No question in the world: A lot of little people would have been hurt had Congress not responded with the mother of all financial bailouts.

But the little people were not the reason for this move. This was about bailing out bigness.

That's become the American way in an era ruled by free-market fundamentalists. They trumpeted "government is the problem" all the way en route to placing themselves in positions to make it so.

Ronald Reagan, in spirit, I'm talking about you.

Jack Kemp. You. Phil Gramm and Tom DeLay. Y'all. And, of course, let us not fail to credit the vessel on whose flight deck so many wayward chickens now roost, George W. Bush.

Author Naomi Klein was talking about another vaunted figure the other day in Chicago. She summoned the spirit of free-market icon Milton Friedman. And she delivered unto him a knuckle rapping.

The author of "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism" was at the University of Chicago to criticize plans for a $200 million Friedman Institute.

She observed that events on Wall Street represent the utter and total repudiation of Friedmanism -- the fundamental belief that markets are inerrant, organic and perfect, like nature itself. You know what the margarine commercial says: We dare not mess with Mother Market -- er, Nature.

So it was that with financial deregulation, which is guaranteed to put a premium on bigness at the expense of all else. And so we treated the market like kudzu. Against the morass now faced, a machete if as ineffectual as a cocktail fork.

This is what we get for surrendering our democracy to big business, when corporations rule.

You say Barack Obama is a big spender? Well, his largely incrementalist health care plan is estimated to cost between $65 billion and $80 billion. The loan we've made to keep one insurance giant afloat, AIG? Initially, it was $85 billion. Then this week came a loan of $37 billion from the Fed.

It's endemic, says Klein, of a historic "transfer of private debt to public hands," a trademark and ultimate manifestation of deregulation and privatization.

Klein observes that the companies in question became "too big to fail" -- giving them the status of government-protected monopolies. As banks gobble up banks, we are approaching something tantamount to national banks -- ?in the monopoly sense of the word, not in the sense of "national trust."

Deregulation of things that once were public trusts inevitably leads to bigness and virtual monopolies.

When Texas was setting out to deregulate electricity, consumer groups predicted that though many players would enter the game, ultimately bigness would prevail and we'd have roughly the same monopolies we had before, only unregulated and with different names. We are heading in exactly that direction.

Then there's Friedmanites' pet pony of privatization, better described by Klein as "crony capitalism." It's where the Halliburtons and KBRs of the world are hired to run the world, principally because of their proximity to power.

Klein says the next front is in putting infrastructure, particularly highways, in private hands as is seen in Texas with Gov. Rick Perry's toll-road-or-no-road highway map.

This is all premised on the assumption that we don't have the resources to do otherwise. But the fact is we do. We always have. However, we consciously paint ourselves into a fiscal corner at every turn, forcing contrived crises.

Klein's notion of "disaster capitalism" is that so-called free marketeers in power thirst for disaster -- a 9/11, a Katrina, a shattered Iraq -- to implement draconian "free market" solutions that ultimately benefit businesses characterized by bigness.

And now we have government bailing out big business on Wall Street: a no-fault disaster for those who say bigger is always better and the free market is infallible.
John Young writes for the Waco Tribune-Herald; jyoung@wacotrib.com.

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