In a piece last week, I quoted observations from Matt Yglesias and Ezra Klein to the effect that, when you scrape away all the rhetorical appeals to “property rights” and “free markets,” you find that the real agenda is not so much the promotion of markets and property as such, as promoting the interests of business and defending business against stuff it doesn’t like.
And lo and behold, John Stossel and Michael Medved come out and prove me right. Stossel hosted Medved, author of The 5 Big Lies About American Business, on his Fox Business Network show. Medved, in the process of fulminating about Hollywood’s theme of “the businessman as villain,” drops this little gem: “You can only make a profit in this country by giving people a product or a service that they want,” he says. “It’s the golden rule in action.”
(It was amusing, by the way, to see Medved contrast today’s “businessman as villain theme” with the good old days, when Jimmy Stewart played kindly George Bailey the banker. Oddly enough I seem to recall a character named Potter who was also a businessman—but that can’t be!)
Medved responds to allegations that big business is corrupt and exploitative, in the corporatist economy we live in, by arguing that “it can’t happen, because in a free market, blah blah woof woof.” It’s the moral equivalent of traveling back in time to feudal France and saying to the serfs: “No, those great landlords can’t be exploiting you because in a free market…” Or to the old Soviet Union and saying, “No, those state industrial managers can’t be pushing you around because in a free market…”
Stossel, at least, has previously tipped his hat to the ideas of corporatism and crony capitalism. But he didn’t let out a peep about it this time. He smiled and nodded in response to Medved’s fairy tale with the demeanor of a four-year-old child on Santa’s knee.
So in a free market, exploitation is impossible. I agree. But what has that got to do with a corporatist system founded on 150 years’ worth of massive collusion between big government and big business, in which the great fortunes are founded on crimes and the great profits are equivalent to the feudal landlord’s rents?
The struggle of work vs. ownership is central to the Leftist paradigm. I agree. But the main form of “ownership” by which labor is exploited is not property in one’s own accumulated past effort and abstention. The real form of exploitative ownership against which labor has to contend is artificial property and artificial scarcity: a property in the conditions under which other people are permitted to work, buy and sell.
If you look at the biggest firms, and the dominant sectors in the global economy, their profits are all rents on a property in controlling other people’s access to opportunities.
Medved also comes out and counters the “myth” that the rich get richer by making the poor poorer, because “when two people engage in free exchange, both gain.” So “there are no obscene profits,” according to Medved.
I can just imagine him telling a mugging victim that he wasn’t really robbed, because “when two people engage in free exchange…” The question is, whether a given transaction in our corporate economy IS a free exchange.
So is he saying that all economic transactions under the present system are “free exchange”? Is he saying that the profits of (say) military contractors and state-protected monopolists aren’t obscene? Is he denying that they even exist?
Frankly, I doubt if he even cares, he’s been phoning it in for so long. Medved is just being willfully stupid in order to write a by-the-numbers puff piece, in service to a bunch of crooks who want a legitimizing myth made to order. And Stossel is cheering him on.
Give me a break.