Saturday, June 30, 2018

Conspiracy Theory

If you're new here, this is a weekly column consisting of letters written to my grandchildren (who exist) and my great-grandchildren (who aren't here yet) — the Stickies — to haunt them after they become grups and/or I'm dead.

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Irregularly Appearing Imaginary Guest Stars
Marie-Louise -- My beautiful muse and back scratcher 
Iggy -- My designated Sticky
Dana -- My designated gentlereader

Free market: "... a system which imposes upon enterprise a discipline under which the managers chafe and which each endeavors to escape."
                                                                                 -Friedrich Hayek

Dear (eventual) Grandstickies & Great-Grandstickies,

Capitalism and free market are terms that often should not be sharing the same sentence (or the same dictionary definition) – depending on how ya define your terms.

Merriam-Webster says that capitalism is: an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market (my emphasis).

In other words, at least in theory, people compete for your hard-earned money by offering you the best combination of product, price, and service for something you want/need/are willing to pay for.

Dr. Deirdre McCloskey ("Distinguished Professor of Economics, History, English, and Communication" University of Illinois at Chicago) has gone to a great deal of trouble to document the fact that capitalism, starting roughly 200 years ago, is responsible for our age of unprecedented prosperity.

The operative word is the previous sentence is unprecedented. The planet Earth hasn't previously experienced anything like it. Go a-googling if you don't believe me. Here's a taste. The U.S. weight loss market -- that is, just the U.S. --was worth $66,000,000,000 in 2017.

However, Dr. McCloskey likes to substitute the awkward phrase trade tested betterment for the word capitalism due to the frequent bad press capitalism receives from fat reporters/various and sundry ungrateful Citizens of the Republic. However...

Big, No, HUGE But

They have a point, BUT, they're still missing the point, as are their philosophical enemies.

I recently stumbled on an essay published by a website called Bleeding Heart Libertarians, ("Free Markets and Social Justice") titled The Conflation Trap by Roderick Long. 

BHL, consisting mostly of academics writing for academics, is not exactly poolside reading material. However, since I'm a wild-eyed libertarian with a bleeding heart and conservative impulses, I occasionally wade through a posting or two although I frequently find myself in over my head.

While not exactly light reading, the essay in question explains how/why the terms capitalism and free market aren't always playing on the same team.

Conflation trap refers to the fact that conservative and libertarian free-marketeers often "tend to conflate the results of crony corporatism with those of free markets."


"...where the right-wing version...treats the virtues of free markets as reason to defend the fruits of corporatism, the left wing...treats the objectionable fruits of corporatism as reason to condemn free markets (my emphasisses).

In other words...

Big ass companies, although they often produce shtuff we want and need,  often take advantage of their sheer size to tilt the playing field by...

Rent-seeking, "a company lobbies the government for loan subsidies, grants or tariff protection" (Investopedia). And/or regulatory capture, "...a regulatory agency...advances the commercial or political concerns of...groups that dominate the is charged with regulating.

[There are many more tactics in their bags o' tricks, the two above are just my personal faves.]

That is, they use their size to cheat. That's not free market capitalism, which is why conservatives and libertarians should condemn such behavior regardless of whether or not we wind up with cool stuff.

Left-wingers often do condemn this sort of thing (unless the firm in question is politically favored or they have a personal stake...) -- and then blame/condemn the free market. I repeat, this is not free market capitalism.

Conspiracy Theory

Lubbock, Texas. Spring, 1985.

Bob L.: "It's all a con, man."
Me: "It's a freakin' conspiracy, what it is."

O.K., this is the conspiracy part of our literary extravaganza. Like most alleged conspiracies, it's more of a self-reinforcing cosmic coinkydink than an active conspiracy.

That is to say, no secret meetings were/are held at the snack bar of a flea market in Lubbock, Texas -- the one where Ronbo had her purse swiped? It's just gummit employees and employees of The Gummit and politicians and chafing managers (see Hayek quote above) pursuing their own rational self-interest.

The bottom line is a system in which...

The Depublicrats (D.) and bureauons tend to blame the "free" market whenever Giantco Inc. gets caught with its thumb on the scale. Vote for us/we need more gummit, and The Gummit, and Rules&Regs.

The Republicrats (R), allegedly conservatives and/or libertarians, are often prepared to ignore Giantco Inc. getting caught with its thumb on the scale, reinforcing the left's view of the "free" market.

They call for smaller/limited gummit -- and then vote for the corn cartel, the sugar cartel, the cable cartel, etceterel. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the poster children of too big to fail. Bloated and unaccountable defense spending, subsidized this, subsidized that, etceterized, ad nauseam, ad infinitum, ad absurdum.

Mr. Long points out...

[Note: approaching a very cool and perceptive observation.]

...that Big Gummit v. Giganto Inc. is comparable to the church v. the state in the middle ages. They need (and use) each other to survive and thrive while each plots and schemes to gain the upper hand.

Depublicans v. Republicrats? In any given election in which we choose a favorite son/daughter to be a (theoretically temporary) part of The Gummit, better than 90% of incumbents will be reelected. Can't be our fault... I'll bet it's the Pooteen (i.e., Russians) and his evil henchmen! Hmmm...

The Gummit, the pols, the bureauons -- and Giantco -- conspire against the Citizens of the Republic merely by being themselves and doing what they do. Without federal term limits -- we're screwed. Poppa loves you.

Have an OK day.

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©2018 Mark Mehlmauer   (The Flyoverland Crank)

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