Oligarchy versus Free Markets
To function well, capitalism requires a free market. Markets in America are becoming progressively less free as they become more oligopolistic. Antitrust is basically dead. Mergers and acquisitions are becoming more frequent and much larger, highlighted by this Wall Street Journal story. A market dominated by a few huge players is not free. It’s bad for customers, who cannot bargain with so few alternatives, and for employees, who are hugely overmatched by the power of management. It tends to stifle innovation, because in many cases small companies cannot compete with the market giants, who will drive new competitors out of business by cutting prices or other punitive measures.
Outsourcing and automation have increased the power of the already powerful market giants. . Very little is manufactured in America, despite ABC TV’s efforts to find things made here. Bank tellers are one of the latest entry level jobs to go the way of the dodo bird, replaced by on-line banking and ATMs. Management of these large companies is furiously trying to bring labor costs to zero. They have enlisted the Republican Party to help them break unions. There are almost no unions left in the manufacturing sector; the most powerful ones are in the public sector, particularly teachers. For lobbyists’ money, Republicans politicians have taken on the task of destroying the teachers’ union, which would probably be the death knell for unions across the country. Republicans already dislike education; how many times did Republicans say, “I am not a scientist,” during this last election. They are uneducated and proud of it, but they also have an economic agenda behind their efforts to destroy schools and teachers.
The heart of the matter is that Republicans love money and love people with money. This is why they are willing to outsource the defense of the country to their friends who supply private armies for money. That’s why they want to lower taxes, and end regulations that in any way hinder their patrons from making a quick buck. That’s why we have even government healthcare like Medicaid run by private insurance companies, of which there are only a few giants who dominate the market.
The American people sense these dislocations. They recognize that American business is not the same as it was a generation or two ago. That is one reason they don’t have faith in the current economy. They see, either objectively or subjectively, that the American economy is not a free market. It is stacked in favor of the rich, who get their taxes lowered, their political influence strengthened. At the moment, relatively few people are starving; we are not on the verge of a French Revolution, but we seem to be moving toward that sort of climax, rather than away from it.
The most recent episode of HBO’s “The Newsroom,” with federal agents swarming the newsroom floor, was no doubt intended to be reminiscent of France’s “Le Miserables” or perhaps even Nazi-era Germany. As Thomas Jefferson said, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”