08 March 2010

Conservative Columnist: Big Business is 'Vampiric'

Big business is not “right wing,” it’s vampiric. It will pursue any opportunity to make a big profit at little risk. Getting in bed with politicians is increasingly the safest investment for these “crony capitalists.” But only if the politicians can actually deliver.

The writer is Jonah Goldberg, a columnist who infuriated liberals by writing a book that purported to show the affinities between their political philosophy and European fascism. In other words, he might be assumed to be one of the last people to be found writing lines like those above. Imagine a confirmed liberal writing those words, however, and most conservatives (or at least most Republicans) would condemn the author. What do they make of Goldberg, I wonder.

Goldberg has written some interesting columns recently questioning both the linkage of conservatives and "big business" in the popular imagination and the tendency of conservatives to link themselves to big business. He's emerged as a critic of crony capitalism, having discovered that many big businesses, rather than dismantle the allegedly oppressive regulatory apparatus of government, would rather exploit it to handicap competitors, so long as they have influence with the regulators or the elected officials who appoint them.

He notes reports that show corporate donations to Republicans increasing, but attributes them less to corporate opposition to the Democratic agenda than to a realization that the political tide is turning against the Obama administration. At the same time, he points out, corporations are still giving to Democrats in a major way. It only makes sense to seek influence in both parties, after all. Goldberg is actually worried that corporate donors will have too much influence with Republicans, yet again.

The political failures of the Obama White House have translated into business failures for firms more eager to make money off taxpayers instead of consumers.That’s good news. The bad news will be if the Republicans once again opt to be the cheap dates of big business. For years, the GOP defended big business in the spirit of free enterprise while businesses never showed much interest in the principle themselves. Now that their bet on the Democrats has crapped out, it’d be nice if they stopped trying to game the system and focused instead on satisfying the consumer [emphasis added].

In other words, Goldberg wants Republicans to walk the walk as well as talk the talk and enforce the rules of The Market despite the temptations of corporate favor. This poses a challenge the scope of which Goldberg may not yet fully appreciate. As a conservative Republican Goldberg presumably favors limited government. He seems to believe that big government is too vulnerable to corporate influence to be trusted to regulate the economy in accordance with The Market. He may even believe that The Market can enforce its own rules of competition without the assistance of government bureaucracy. I don't want to jump to conclusions until Goldberg has developed his interesting ideas more completely, but I worry that he hasn't allowed for two possibilities: 1) that there can be no Big Business without Big Government; and 2) that Big Government doesn't necessarily emerge in opposition to Big Business, but is called into being by it as a means of consolidating its gains against the inevitable challengers of future generations. The Market may work fine in a small town where a better craftsman might easily drive an older, established competitor out of business by doing better work, but economies of scale may distort the Market to such a point that the People need to step in and create a Big Government on their terms before Big Business does it for them on its terms. Goldberg may never have trusted Big Government, and he may now not trust Big Business, but if he wants a Big Economy or a Big Society he can't do without both, and he's going to have to choose a side.

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