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Scrub-a-dub-dub, all three in the tub

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By Jim Flynn

Whenever politicians or talk show performers bloviate about the free-market economy, free-market capitalism, and free trade, it’s difficult to suppress the barf reflux. Large servings of BS (baloney stuffing) have that effect.

Free-market evangelizing is power politics dressed up in patriotic terms intended to disguise government connivance in every aspect of our economy.

The first free-market fast talk happened in America when Peter Minuit purchased Manhattan Island from the Canarsee natives for twenty bucks worth of Dutch-Mart costume jewelry.

The King of England, the British Board of Trade, and Parliament decided all that freedom stuff in the colonies was fertile ground for taxes and profits. Like all politicians and business types, they wanted a piece of the pie — the biggest slice possible. The colonists responded: “In return for what?”

Commerce soon became politics; freedom became nationalism; and together they led to the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution.

The classic definition of “free market capitalism” is business governed only by the law of supply and demand — no government interference, no regulation, and no assistance if things don’t pan out.  It’s a theory that has gone with the wind. 

A problem of free markets is the inability of unsophisticated buyers to know when they’re getting screwed. A recent news item reported a micro example: When natural gas prices jumped, some sellers were pumping only 18 pounds of gas into 20-pound tanks. Protecting citizens against abuse is the job of government.

The bloviators’ response to the inequities of the market is that capitalism still outperforms socialism — “every time.” They’re right! But the philosophy that free-market capitalism does good even when it’s doing harm is callous, and begs the question about protecting citizens from abuse.

Just as socialism relieves individuals of responsibility for their personal and family well-being, profit maximization by abusing citizens relieves corporation managers of their responsibilities to society and the planet.

There are few folks alive today who remember child labor, sweat shops, and a long menu of business abuses which accompanied the industrial revolution. For decades government aided and abetted the abusers. 

We’ve also endured centuries-long pollution of the planet by energy, mining, and manufacturing industries, deliberate slobbiness which contributed to higher profits and left cleanups to government, at the expense of the taxpayers.

If you listen closely, you’ll hear some free-market cheerleaders advocating zero taxes on business. Their mantra is that for the greater good, business should be able to maximize profits when things are going good and not have to pay taxes to remedy abuses and losses when things go bad.

Nice deal. And at the same time, business continues to campaign to manage more functions of government, such as defense, prisons, and law enforcement.

Strangely, as Congress has privatized many functions, the size of government has increased, not decreased. Government has created a bevy of new “private enterprise” industries with taxpayer dollars, and added thousands of employees to administer the giveaways. That’s socialism in disguise.

The other big BS (baloney stuffing) touted by free-market cheerleaders is that capitalism is self-correcting. The gospel is that free markets sort out the weak guys and reward successful producers who create jobs and wealth. Untrue. Self-correction is a fable.

The U.S. has suffered three major depressions, eight money panics, and eleven recessions, most of which occurred in recent years. Business always comes forward with its cup out, asking for assistance. Our current mess would have been far worse had the Bush and Obama administrations failed to head off the panic which would have accompanied bank failures.

When the American colonies decided to fight for independence from England, they were also throwing out the very powerful British corporations that dominated trade and commerce and were in bed with the king and Parliament. 

Our founding fathers were unsuccessful at creating a high enough constitutional wall of separation between greed and state.  Today’s king, parliament, and trading companies – The Administration, Congress, and Big Business — are once again snuggled up in bed together. We call it corruption.

Classic capitalism still thrives at flea markets, where a five-dollar item may be bought for four dollars after some negotiation. All else in our economy is enmeshment of private greed and government failure to protect its citizens. As always, the cleanup is hypocritical socialism, which knows no party.

Editor’s note: With this column, Jim Flynn leaves the Citizen as a weekly columnist to pursue other interests. We wish him well and know he will be missed.