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Saturday, April 17, 2004

Food and free markets

Linking to Atrios is like breathing in its obviousness, but this is such a short but perfect entry, I'm going to extract it in hopes that someone who might have missed it reads it.

Do businessmen like free markets? No, why would they?

Anyway, if you just want to skip Atrios and go to the story he links to, here it is. The government has come in and forced a small, high-quality beef distributor not to test every cow it slaughters for mad cow in order to open itself back up to the Japanese market. Conservatives like to talk about their love of free markets, but what they actually love is capitalism.
They're not the same thing? No, they are not. When it comes to economics, politicians have been playing fast and loose with their terms in order to garner support they wouldn't otherwise would have for huge, soul-destroying corporations. Capitalism is an economic system where people put up capital and expect return on their investments. Freedom and competition are totally irrelevant. In fact, freedom and competition can undermine profits, because consumers are free to take their business to competitors.
Conservatives are trying to convince the public that "free" markets mean that capitalists are free to invest money where they like. As I see it though, free markets should and do mean that the consumer has freedom of choice due to healthy competition.
So, heavy regulation can actually help free markets. That's why monopoly-busting is a free market principle, but a serious problem for capitalists. Advertising regulation is an important factor, too, so that businesses have to compete fairly on the quality of their products instead of on the quality of their marketing.
Free markets vs. capitalism is really well-illustrated right now in the food industry. Small farmers are really suffering under corporate monopolies and everybody's freedom to make sound food purchases is suffering as well. Jim Hightower is a good guy to read on this, since he was our Texas Ag Commissioner for two terms and worked with small farmers. Read his book There's Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos for a good breakdown of how the food industry suffers under anti-free market capitalism.

So, what does this have to do with campaign finance reform? Glad you asked.
Under our current campaign finance system, capitalists are allowed to use campaign contributions as a form of investment capital and they expect good return on their investments. Right now they are pouring tons of money into both parties and they see it as nothing more than buying stock in those parties. Our government is being run like a business, alright. And as big corporations are the major stockholders, they get to make decisions with their own profits in mind.
This is not a democracy. I imagine that if it was put to a vote, the majority of Americans would prefer letting small business find ways to improve safety testing of meat. In a democracy, one person gets a vote, not one dollar. People like me who say that we have to get the money out of politics NOW are considered radicals. But I really can't think of anything more off-the-wall than our current situation where whether or not our food is safety-tested is decided by the people who have to spend money to safety-test it. That's like letting criminals decide what the crime laws should be.