Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Too big to allow

It isn't just government that's become overgrown, sprawling, cumbersome and inefficient in recent decades.  Many businesses and industries have grown so large they now profess to be "too big to fail." 

The preferential treatment such entities receive has tarnished the reputation of capitalism and free markets.  Ironically, though, the very idea of "too big to fail" is the antithesis of free markets, wherein Adam Smith's famous "invisible hand" ruthlessly weeds out failure.  That environment reinforces prudence and sound decision making, since the cost of failure is borne by those who choose poorly.

Sadly, it would be news to many Americans today, but we no longer live under such an entrepreneurial system.  Sure, the "little guy" can still start a business -- under a regulatory system that grows more onerous by the year.  Meanwhile, the giant multinational corporations with bank sheets rivaling national GDPs play by an entirely different set of rules.  Worse, those large players, under the guise of "too big to fail," are able to take larger risks than a family business simply because their losses frequently are subsidized via government action.

In other words, the profits are still private, but the losses are socialised (and I use that word deliberately).
This is not capitalism.  It is corporatism.  Or if you prefer the stark political science definition: fascism, where the government influences/directs but does not "own" the means of production.  (You don't really think a truly free market society requires the purchase of goods such as health insurance, do you?)

Beyond such parasitical economic advantages, though, companies larger than a certain size simply wield too much power:
There are 6,000 American banks, but “half of the entire banking industry’s assets” are concentrated in five institutions whose combined assets amount to almost 60 percent of the gross domestic product. And “the top 10 banks now account for 61 percent of commercial banking assets, substantially more than the 26 percent of only 20 years ago.”
Our nation was formed on a foundation of distributed power.  We still recognize (somewhat) the perils of investing decision-making authority in a single ruler, or a small circle of individuals.  Is that peril any less when it comes to such influence via a specific trade or industry?  Concentrated power is hostile to liberty, wherever and in whatever form it is found.

There are only two directions this state of affairs can go: devolution, or further concentration of power.  We know which one the current trend line favors.  The question is which one people will allow.

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