“Free Enterprise” is Not Free Enterprise

According to Allison Linn, a writer for the website of the liberal MSNBC Network, the usual suspects in the corporate economy are engaged in a major rebranding effort (“Capitalism? Yuck! But free enterprise? Yes!” July 21).

It seems they’ve figured out that Americans, as measured by polls and focus groups, tend to react negatively to the word “capitalism.” “Free enterprise,” on the other hand, is right up there with motherhood and apple pie.

So the Texas Board of Education voted to replace textbook references to “capitalism” with “free enterprise.”  And the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has eliminated “capitalism” from its propaganda in favor of “free enterprise.”

According to James E. MacDougald, of The Free Enterprise Nation, “There’s been a demonization of the word ‘capitalism’  …. It’s been used so often by people … who are anti-corporate or anti-business that they’ve, I think successfully, created the idea that capitalism and greed are the same thing, where free enterprise isn’t greedy but capitalism is greedy.”

But the choice of the term “free enterprise” is just a transparently lame attempt to polish a … well, you get the idea.  The problem is that these people are still defending the present system of corporate capitalism that made them rich — and it ain’t free enterprise. Every single awful thing about the present corporate economy that Americans react to negatively when they hear the word “capitalism” is at the heart of how the dirtbags in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who love to toss around the words “free enterprise,” actually make their money.

What the Chamber of Commerce means by “free enterprise” is exactly the same thing that people like Naomi Klein and Michael Moore are attacking under the name of “capitalism.” As a result, most people hear the words “free enterprise” and “free markets” emanating primarly from the same interests  that want to protect the system as it is, and that depend most heavily on the suppression of the free market for their livelihood. No wonder establishment libertarianism has such negative “pot-smoking Republican” connotations for so many people.

Believe it or not, though, there are some of us on the free-market left who genuinely believe in free enterprise, and who see truly freed markets as the enemy of corporate capitalism. Far from seeing the Robber Baron capitalism of the Gilded Age as some laissez-faire utopia, we see it as the beginning of a corporate-state system of power which has lasted for 150 years, upheld by massive collusion between big government and big business. The primary function of the state during that time has been to subsidize the operating costs of big business and to protect it against competition. And the interests that talk the most about “free enterprise,” generally speaking, are the very ones most tightly hooked into the corporate state.

A genuine free enterprise system, without state-enforced artificial scarcities, artificial property rights or subsidies, would be like dynamite at the foundations of corporate power. It would be an economy of far more evenly distributed property ownership and decentralized production, looking a lot more like something imagined by Ralph Borsodi than by Alfred Chandler.

So I’d love to issue a challenge to those “free enterprise” hucksters in the Chamber of Commerce: Let’s have genuine “free enterprise,” and let’s have it now. That means repealing the DMCA, WIPO Copyright Treaty, drug patents, and all other “intellectual property” law — and telling the RIAA, MPAA and Microsoft where to get off. It means cutting the automobile-highway complex, the military-industrial complex and agribusiness off from the taxpayer teat. It means eliminating all regulatory barriers to the competitive issue of low-interest credit through mutual banks, against people’s own property or their future earning power. It means ceasing to enforce all absentee titles to vacant and unimproved land. And it means an end to an American foreign policy whose main goal is to make the entire planet safe for corporate power.

My guess is that this is the kind of free market that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce would get Katherine Harris and James Baker to stage another coup to prevent.

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