Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Capitalist v. Government Tango

The print, radio and television mouthpieces of capitalism are expressing trepidation about the federal government’s ousting of CEOs. Thus demonstrating, once again, that when one (or more) doesn’t understand that something’s in their best interest they’ll object, no matter how ignorant it paints them.

The American auto manufacturers (once known as the big three) came to the US government, hat in hand, asking for billions of dollars in federal (read: taxpayer’s) assistance; similar to what they’d done in the 1980s. Reappearing on the government’s doorstep cemented the reputation, as incompetent, of the American auto industries’ executives.

The financial services industries, and the previous administration, waited till the US economy was in freefall before coming to the folks that have always bailed them out before: the American taxpayer. Perhaps they were concerned that the taxpayer would tire of freeing these folks from the traps that they’d set for themselves; possibly even hold them accountable, finally.

Companies, auto and finance, were allowed to grow, “too big to fail,” in an unregulated business environment. They demonstrated certainty that they wouldn’t have to face the consequences, intended or otherwise, of their actions.

The vast majority of the aforementioned industry’s leaders seem terrified of the bankruptcy courts, because the proceedings become public record. Corporate legal departments move rapidly to seal said records, but apparently there is insufficient confidence in the success of such an effort.

Taxpayers have provided the money to recover from all the recessions and depressions that have occurred since capitalism took root in the world. Imperial and mercantile economies were also built on the backs working folks; nothing new here. What is reasonably new is the ability of voters, in a democratic republic, to call for an accounting of the expenditures and that makes the plutocrats nervous.

When one looks at the US federal government’s history of taking control of businesses it should be remembered that that government took over some industries after the Great Depression and it was recovering the economy prior to the start of our active engagement in World War II; contrary to some recent attempts to rewrite that bit of history. One also needs to remember that the US war effort during WWII was successfully run by the War Department (a.k.a., the Department of Defense).

It is true that the government should not run most industry, excepting most common carriage business efforts. It has, however, been clearly demonstrated (time and again) that when capitalism is allowed to operate in an unregulated environment it gets massively carried away with itself: creating innovation, profiting from it, creating excess (recurring irrational exuberance), leading to bubbles, bubbles burst in spectacular and intentionally unanticipated (read: unprofitable to anticipate) fashion.

The government/taxpayer, once again, needs to underwrite, clean up and re-regulate the businesses that undermined the economy; then move back to the sidelines. There needs to be a friendly, continuous competition between the capitalists, the regulators and the voters/customers, because none work best on their own.

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