Bought and Paid For

In the wake of Republican presidential aspirant Mitt Romney’s “corporations are people” gaffe, Reuters’ John F. Wasik points out what ought to be obvious, but may not be for many Americans. “The ‘people’ Washington helps most,” he argues, are “big corporations,” noting the “infinite amounts of money” big business spends “to purchase politicians, legislation and tax breaks.”

In highlighting the relationship between big business and Washington, Wasik also calls attention to a fundamental conflict at the heart of American society, a class conflict almost never remarked upon between those who steal and exploit and those who work and produce. Creating that conflict — war that underlies our entire economic paradigm — is the state’s raison d’être.

One could, with some accuracy, say that the guiding principle of the free society is order, conflict prevention emanating from a kind of symmetry within society; which demands only mutual respect. Today, society is shaped by fundamental inequalities and imbalances of power, a situation at once both the consequence and cause of what Isabel Paterson called the “Society of Status.”

Such a condition is the consequence of the “Society of Status” insofar as the state preserves special prerogatives for the ruling class. Similarly, and in a kind of vicious circle, those privileges give way to results that starkly divide the population into social orders based on everything from education to income and job title.

Being the result of the state’s coercive disruption of naturally-emerging orders based on free exchange and cooperation, these categories create conflict rather than prevent it or stave it off. In a society where the state — a geographical monopoly on force — is the source of wealth and power, there will always be an incentive to pursue command over it.

The state, then, is ultimately invested in engendering conflict, dividing society in a way that allows it to use its monopoly powers to intervene on behalf of the powerful interests associated with it. Rather than preserving the peace or safeguarding liberty, the state has every incentive to instigate antagonistic relationships that end up favoring the elite, political class at the expense of those who lack access to the levers of power.

For the business establishment, for instance, engaging the coercive authority of government to foreclose competition proves preferable to jockeying with counterparts in the turbulent streams of a real free market. Contrary to popular belief, big business does not devote billions of dollars per year to lobbying policymakers for more economic freedom, for anything like the “deregulation” we are so often told that big companies want.

They are invested quite thoroughly in ensuring that nothing like authentic deregulation, which would actually undermine attempts at dreaded monopoly, ever comes close to legal reality. Washington is bought and paid for, the axis of a system of patronage and favors that, if engineered by anyone else, would be called racketeering.

But instead, the corporatist, pay-to-play machinations of the U.S. of A. are approvingly called “free enterprise” and “democracy,” and are regarded as the kinds of “compromises” that come with a “free society.” In 2009, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce shelled out upwards of $120 million on lobbying. Boeing alone spent almost $18 million last year, with fellow defense-contractor parasite Northrop Grumman dishing out nearly $16 million.

You had better believe that they’re getting their money’s worth from politicians and regulators, with a result that has absolutely nothing to do with the free market that left-libertarian anarchists are talking about. Voluntary exchange that takes place in an open environment, free from coercive monopolization, is nothing at all like the state capitalism defended by the full spectrum of Beltway talking heads and office-holders.

No, their system, in which everyone scrambles for their piece of a bounty of special advantages and stolen loot, is the height of chaos, a bedlam in praise of violence. And even while the favorites — the chief beneficiaries of privilege — tend to change with time, big business, roughly defined, has always enjoyed the position of primacy and influence, giving the “free market” a bad name.

Millions of dollars aren’t being spent to ensure that the local, mom and pop corner store can compete on a level playing field with the multinational corporation; they are being spent to erect gates and tolls all around our commercial lives, to rope us into the same pay-to-play game that the corporate powerhouses have so scrupulously written the rules for.

The free market, in contrast, asks only that people deal with one another on terms that are genuinely consensual and therefore mutually beneficial. Maybe it’s time we found out what would happen to big business in that kind of an economy.

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