Can Capitalism be Automatic?
Never being good at ideological judgements, Americans
failed to confront a decision about Marxism. Stalin handled that need
for us by defeating Trotsky and turning the Soviet Union into a totalitarian,
statist economy. Once the issue of Marxist economics per se was buried,
the fight became instead over communism, the latter-day impure Marxism.
Nevertheless, the question remains. What kind of country does America
want to be now that capitalism dominates the scene? What kind of capitalism?
No restraints? Anything goes? What about the common good as against the
good of only one sector, the corporate?
We fnd that at this moment in our history that we may be missing a remarkable
opportunity. We are confronted with an almost issue-less presidential
campaign, certainly at the ideological level. Yet, the antitrust case
against Microsoft wending through our judicial system has not been heard
about on the campaign trail.
With Marxism no longer on the table, yes we all do want a competitive
market economy, one that can be relied upon for an efficient use of our
labor and resources at the same time that the distribution of income is
reasonably egalitarian. Fine. But in any shape and with any practices?
Across the political spectrum there is an awareness of the influence of
campaign monies provided by the wealthy and the corporate sector. Yet
the matter of income distribution barely surfaces except, perhaps, when
major tax proposals are proffered with the intent to worsen the income
distribution. No, we are told, never use governmental power to regulate.
That is somehow leftist ideology when the only ideology that is approved
from implementation is deregulation.
In the face of almost two centuries of rhetoric lauding competition, why
then is there nothing heard from the candidates about the Sherman and
Clayton antitrust principles that were intended to preclude the economic
distortions emanating from the perverse success of extremist competition?
The drive of the competitive entrepreneur is to create monopoly, that
is, to minimize or even eradicate the threat of possible competitors.
The theories are plentiful from Nobelists Milton Friedman to Kenneth Arrow
that monopoly is not good for the system as a wholeeven though the
force that creates it, unrestrained competition, is a "good"
On the other hand, successful entrepreneurs become icons to be emulated,
not regulated. At the end of the 19th Century and into the early 20th
Century the challenge to various governments, especially conservative
Republican ones, to go against those icons was daunting.
Fortuitously, there was sufficient antipathy building against the Morgans,
the Rockefellers, the Goulds and their railroad empiring that the Republican
presidents Teddy Roosevelt and the even more conventional William Howard
Taft took on those giants in the face of a strong corporate sentiment
within their own electoral ranks.
They enforced the then recent antitrust legislation which had been allowed
to lay idle. In short order, those presidents, especially Teddy Roosevelt,
became the heroes of the political system as the "trust busters"
and remain today among the top Presidential heroes since Washington and
Counter to present practice, they went against the economic icons of the
day by fighting the fighting for truer competition and against monopoly.
In todays terms, Bill Gates of Microsoft (with his personal net
worth of 60 billion dollars) shines as the star to be emulated.
On the other hand, Microsoft has become the target of the reformersbut
not fast enough. In the still undefined terms of what a competitive economy
ought to be, the public at large does not see the long run damage done
by the monoplistic practices of letting Microsoft go kill the baby of
competitionas it throws out the bath water.
How can the presidential candidates not address this issue so central
to our future? Yes, the issue is in the courts, but political if not ideological
dialogue is nonetheless called for with long run direction of the American
economy at stake.
What a moment to be devoid of leadership! Worse, what antitrust rhetoric
we hear is not from the executive but rather from the bureaucracy. And
what about the matter of the mergers and acquisitions taking place, it
seems, on a daily basis? Do our leaders think these are good, or bad,
for the economy as a whole? Are they for the common good even when vertical
as well as horizontal? So much should be on the table, yet so little is.
It is as if the very dynamism of the economy as we know it has diluted
our political life.
STANLEY K. SHEINBAUM
Founding Publisher, NPQ
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