'The free market' versus mere 'crony capitalism'
Saturday, October 15, 2011
Beth Cody, Writers' Group member
Iowa City Press-Citizen

Participants in the local Occupy Iowa City protest have joined the national protest that started on Wall Street, and these protesters are absolutely right: things are not as they should be.

The Occupiers are right in the same way that the Tea Party protesters were right last year. People on both sides of the traditional Republican-Democratic divide realize that there is something very wrong with the way things are going.

But neither side gets it quite right.

The Occupiers understand that government is corrupt, controlled by big corporate interests, and that War mostly benefits special interests. But their wholly irrational remedy is calling for even bigger, more powerful government that will only benefit big interests even more.

The Tea Partiers seem to understand that big government is bad government and that spending, taxes and national debt are out of control. But they are easily sidetracked by the false bogeymen of illegal immigration, gay marriage and "national defense" (a.k.a. policing the entire world). Despite their theoretical defense of limited government, they call for totalitarian fixes for "problems" caused by government in the first place.

But each side has truly valid points. Large corporations do influence our government, employing lobbyists to sway politicians, receiving bailouts on the backs of the taxpayers and tax breaks that individuals and small businesses do not enjoy, and using government regulations to drive out competitors so they can charge customers higher prices.

But this is crony capitalism, not the "free market" vilified by the Occupiers, in which businesses are allowed to succeed – and fail – at providing what customers want at reasonable prices.

And is crony capitalism caused by corporations, anyway? When a husband cheats on the wife to whom he has vowed fidelity, is it "the other woman" who is at fault? Let's put the blame where it rightfully lies: corrupt government.

We all know Lord Acton's aphorism: All power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The more powerful and able to "help" us we allow government to become, the more corrupt it will be.

Many Occupiers are protesting, understandably, our high unemployment rate, but they don't seem to realize that it's the direct result of bad government policies, not some inexplicable surge of "greed". It's incredible to me that people actually believe taxing and regulating more will somehow create more jobs, instead of destroying them.

Even worse, many of the Occupiers seem to be crusading against wealth itself, regardless of whether it was made by pleasing customers or through crony capitalist schemes. They call for even more income redistribution, although that will inevitably result in even more money transferred from middle and upper-middle earners to the very richest few (those "too big to fail").

Most Republicans and libertarians reject the Occupiers for their anti-capitalism and class warfare, and it's true that it is ridiculous to protest the market system that lifted us all above subsistence – they might as well protest the unfairness of gravity.

But conservatives should more vigorously distinguish between crony capitalism and free(r) markets.

And conservatives must realize that using military force for any and all "foreign objectives" robs us of our freedom and money as surely as any other government policies, as does attempting to legislate morality or building giant walls around our nation. These are big-government misdeeds unworthy of freedom-loving Tea Partiers.

We must continue to try to educate the public – which understands the problems, if not the right solutions – about the malignant effects of big government: corruption, crony capitalism, endless war, economic malaise, burdensome taxes, nanny statism, meddling in our private lives and the side-effects of programs designed to help us: crushing student debt, runaway health insurance costs, overextended mortgages and passive dependence on government.

A government strong enough to take care of us all from cradle to grave is a government strong enough to ignore the protests of its citizens in favor of more important interests.