Pro-Free Market vs. Pro-Business

Lawrence Lessig in Wired:

I’m no Republican (though I was the youngest member of the Pennsylvania delegation to the 1980 GOP convention). But I don’t expect the Democrats would behave much differently if they were in power; the corrupting influence of money in government is equal-opportunity. If those in power are to resist that corruption, they need to adhere to a set of ideals. The GOP (at least, as it was rising to dominate American politics) defined its ideals as pro-market policies that promote competition and efficiency. Yet increasingly, the party – as conservative columnist Bruce Bartlett says of George Bush in his book, Impostor – is “incapable of telling the difference between being pro-business and being for the free market.” It favors specific competitors rather than favoring competition. What’s good for the US is more and more often translated into what’s good for powerful friends. Or so policy in America could be summarized today.

Such pro-business and anti-efficiency policies will continue to prevail until someone in our political system begins to articulate principles on the other side. And given the way money talks in capitals around the country, this is a stance only those out of power can afford to take.

Free markets aren’t pro-business – they don’t favor incumbent companies if upstarts do the job better. Competition is good wherever it comes from – even the government – so long as it lowers social costs and increases wealth. And efficiency is good regardless of who it might hurt; it is especially good if it hurts those who feed off inefficiency. Thus, lawyers are good, but a world that needed fewer of them would be much better. Doctors are great, but that’s no argument against better health. And TurboTax is fantastic, but it shouldn’t prevent the government from making paying taxes easier.

Anyone with integrity agrees that this is a problem; when corporations get to a certain size, their general objective becomes preservation of their business model, and usually they go running to the whores in government to buy laws to accomplish just that. Corporations wield so much power now it’s a wonder they don’t manage to just freeze progress right where it is, since that seems to be the aim of so many of them.

Personally, I blame the corporate form for this; someone more libertarian than I would likely make a good argument that the government is the problem. Either way though, it’s a frustrating problem and one not easily solved.

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