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Magic of the Market, or, The Lenin Paradox

October 27, 2010

So the wheel turns again in politics, the inevitable Presidential-first-term-midterm-majority-overthrow on course and on target, no matter how batshit crazy the candidates may be.  The majority of voting Americans seem to see politics right now as a Gordian Knot, solvable only with the application of a sharp sword.  In my state, Sharron Angle is a clearly insane person who, if elected, will probably vote no on every single measure presented for her deep consideration by the United States Senate, just as she did in the Nevada State Legislature.  The Republican leadership short-sightedly thinks she will help them comprise either a majority or a filibuster-worthy number of votes – I don’t; I think she will frustrate her own party as thoroughly as she frustrated everyone on both sides in our state government, seeing a secret plot in every measure before that august body, and hellbent on stopping all government spending of any kind (except, that is, more government money for Christian schools).  She is the kind of fringe figure we’re used to seeing in Congress, but other than Jesse Helms or Strom Thurmond, it’s hard to think of another so clearly insane, hateful, and unqualified person to make it so far in politics that they reach the Senate.  Nevertheless, she is running neck-and-neck with Harry Reid, because he’s so hated, not just by the national Foxocratic Oligarchy but by so many Nevadans who hate him for everything from diverting all our water to Vegas to his prickly personality to, of course, his dadgum soceelizm.

There’s still this belief (or at least statement of belief) that somehow the free market is the solution to our woes – I mean a 100% free market, no gummymint regulation at all.  By this logic, “bad” corporations will be driven out of business without the government needing to step in to deal with their lack of worker or product safety.  The problem is that, as we’ve seen all too often, corporations are actually rarely driven by far-sighted “rational actors,” but by short-sighted, selfish, sometimes even sociopathic types who will all too eagerly sell us salmonella-tainted eggs as long as they can get away with it, or overwork and underpay their employees to the point where they commit suicide.  The “magic of the market” argument presumes that in the first case (mis or malfeasance) the bad actions will be revealed and customers, “free to choose,” will stop buying eggs from the Bad Man.  In the second instance, it presumes that workers are also free to choose to find other employment.  It’s easier to make the case for the second one, tough as it may be – why, if you live in a company town, just up and move, show some gumption and leave behind your family and friends and community and go somewhere else!  But in the first, not so much.  After all, without oversight, how will we know that the salmonella eggs or lead-based toys or melamine-laced milk are poisonous until thousands are harmed or die?  China shows us the face of the magic market, though at least there people are executed for mass murder instead of slapped with a small fine. 

Even this logic presumes that we have a press not controlled and censored by large corporations, reporters who will actually find and name the culprits, workers who will spill the beans, so that we could be “free to choose” other eggs or toys or milk, without the whistleblowers being prosecuted in corporate-friendly courts for breaking confidentiality agreements.  Even this presumes that thousands must be made sick first, before public action can “correct” the market. 

Lenin once spoke of the victims of the Communist revolution by saying “You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.”  The irony is that in the process of fulfilling the “revolutionary” dream of unfettered capitalism, many thousands of “eggs” will be broken, again and again, until we relearn that their handling is best not left to the foxes.

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