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Thursday
Jul052012

Crony Capitalism is the common enemy of the Tea Party and the Occupy Movement.

Before the Occupy Movement appeared, I suggested in Common Ground for Tea Partiers and Liberals that both "feel that their lives are getting worse, not better, and that, rather than having control over their own lives, they are being dictated to and victimized by powerful people and institutions." Professor Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business concurs in an LAT op ed today, where he specifically identifies crony capitalism as the common enemy of the Tea Party and the Occupy Movement:

[Both major parties are ignoring] what unites the two movements: their fundamentally anti-elite, anti-establishment attitude.

The tea party and the Occupy movement both arose in response to pervasive frustration. As we've grown accustomed to hearing in recent years, Americans are angry. They're angry at bankers, who helped cause the financial crisis but paid no price for it. They're angry at Washington, which blamed the bankers but deserved as much blame, if not more, for failing to rein them in. And they're angry at an economy that seems to enrich the wealthy while leaving most everyone else standing still or falling behind.

This anger manifests itself in a strong anti-elite bias and a determination to resist an oppressive leviathan — though the monster takes different forms in the two movements. For the tea party, it's the federal government in Washington; for Occupy, it's bailout-addicted big business.

The difference is more apparent than real. The problem is not big business per se but monopolistic and politically powerful business. It is not government per se but intrusive and corrupt government. Is Fannie Mae inefficient, for example, because it is a large monopolistic company or because it is a state-sponsored enterprise? The answer is both.

Does the blame lie with the government or with the private sector? Neither. Their failures are the result of an increasingly corrupt system of crony capitalism, in which businesses succeed not through competitive merit but through government connections and favoritism such as tax breaks, subsidies and other preferential treatment.

For many people, the way big banks escaped the financial crisis with their profits intact (and often enhanced) epitomized American-style crony capitalism. Neither party has had the courage to confront it, for fear of losing campaign contributions and political power.

. . . .

The battle against crony capitalism is foremost a battle against anti-competitive, monopolistic corporations. Antitrust regulation should thus be extended to the political consequences of mergers. When companies become disproportionately big, they become disproportionately powerful, and as we have seen, their influence distorts the political system.

In no sector is this truer than in finance, where consolidation has made banks "too big to fail" and too powerful to combat. A reinstitution of the separation between commercial and investment banking, along the lines of the old Glass-Steagall Act (repealed in 1999), would help contain this excessive power.

It's worth keeping in mind that the patriots who threw English tea into Boston Harbor in 1773 were not revolting against higher taxes (the Tea Act, in fact, lowered the price of tea legally imported in America) but against the privileges granted to the British East India Co.. The American Revolution was a battle for political rights, but it was also a battle for economic freedom — and against an 18th century form of crony capitalism.

Corrupt arrangements of this kind have unfortunately endured to the present day, and their abuses finally sparked protest movements from the right and the left. The two political parties ignore these movements at their peril.

I agree.

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