The Motor of Motown Capitalism

Last week, in a speech in Grand Rapids and accompanying op-ed in the Detroit News, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney delivered what may have been his ultimate “pot meet kettle” moment. Rewinding a few years, Romney called the ’09 Chrysler bailout “a major taste of crony capitalism, Obama-style,” and complained of “sweetheart deals” from Washington.

That Mitt Romney has the gall to so much as let the phrase “crony capitalism” pass his lips is itself astounding to behold. He’s the former governor of Massachusetts who pioneered the corporate welfare program for big insurance now passing nationally as “healthcare reform.” Indeed, a Romney platform, at least an honest, accurate one, might read, “Believe in crony capitalism for America,” rather than, “Believe in America.”

The brand of crony capitalism for which Romney insincerely arraigned the Obama administration isn’t unique to either of the parties, the two wings of one American political establishment. As a matter of fact, we might just dispense with the “crony” piece of the phrase altogether and call the prevailing system of capitalism what it is, a program of collusion by which big business and big government partner up to attack real competition.

Even without bailouts and stimulus packages — which represent the more blatant instances of regressive redistribution (i.e., from the poor to the rich) — the capitalism that both the left and right are wont to mistake for a free market is defined by privileges for the connected.

And there is no shortage of such privileges percolating through the auto industry, most of which are completely ignored by mainstream commentators. Perhaps chief among those privileges are intellectual property protections in the form of patents, giving rise to a condition of mutual interdependence whereby the handful of big automakers own every method, design or idea that makes up a car.

One example noted by economist Michael Perelman just a few years ago was Toyota’s gobbling up of patents to make it nearly impossible for anyone to build a hybrid car without paying top dollar for a license.

The major carmakers work in about as un-free a market as one could imagine, a complex of legal rivets and bolts (if you’ll forgive the metaphor) all in place to benefit a few so-called “captains of industry.”

Genuine free markets, in contrast, build from the contention that, in the words of Auberon Herbert, “nobody yet has ever been saved, in the best sense, or ever will be saved by vast systems of machinery.”

And market anarchists do not advocate for “the free market” as another “system of machinery,” another top-down, hierarchical arrangement, imposing its own separate and distinct will upon the individuals that constitute it. No, the phrase is instead a blunt proxy for something that, if described properly and in its entirety, would commit us to a near-endless presentation of data and philosophizing upon every allusion to it.

The free market, at least as it is understood by market anarchists, is just what would happen in due course, in the absence of a system of coercive control; it’s not something you enact (or that is even susceptible to enactment), any more than is a stateless society itself.

We have scores of ideas about what that might look like in practice — what results we would see from freedom — and, for many of, us those projections are important in why we favor free markets. Still, we don’t worship or fetishize particular visions or utopias to the point of hoping to assemble them through the gadgetry of authority.

We look forward to organic, genuinely human communities of genuinely human interactions, the trade and cooperation that are now suppressed by the state. Mitt and Barack don’t understand that conception of community; they understand capitalism and hope to ensure that it keeps making their friends rich. The good news is that people are beginning to realize what it is they’re up to.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory