Free marketers love competition…but in some areas don’t want to compete

bread_lineAfter reading a history of the Depression, from a more centrist POV, it struck me how the free-market businessman, so concerned about government encroachment, didn’t seem up to competing with the gov and beating them at serving the needs of consumers and citizens. The following synopsis is what I gathered from this read. It focused especially on providing electricity at the turn of the century.

  1. The free market and its new inventions/innovations rollicks along, hiring, growing and making lots of money for a few. (The electric grid grows and booms, especially in urban areas)
  2. The capitalists overreach and they start leaving people behind, exploiting or generally focusing on profits rather than serving. (The electric businessman wants his profit margin, stocks going up, etc, but doesn’t want to expand to rural areas because that wouldn’t be so profitable)
  3. The stock market crashes. The electric businessman is suddenly in trouble and now he’s doubly not interested in providing electricity to all – at least in his short-term thinking. (Long-term it would have payed off greatly)
  4. So, the gov decides to provide electricity, give people jobs doing it and focusing on the service rather than the profit. (A point lost on most; public services/etc aren’t traded on wall street and don’t have to meet growth and profit margin expectations. The great advantage of public services is that they only have to provide a service well…(sometimes it fails at that too) But neither does it have that hidden-in-plain-sight, must-make-profit “overhead” that private enterprises have, especially those tied to the stock market.)
  5. Free-market-leave-me-alone electric businessman whines about the electric market being taken from him, throws various fits of litigation, media outbursts and spends his profits and time on politicking in order to demonize gov and keep it/get it out of the electricity “business”.
  6. Questions: Instead of going through all of that, why didn’t the electric businessman beat the gov at providing electricity to everyone he could in the first place? So what if his profits fell short a few percentage points for a few years? Why couldn’t he build the dams and generating plants and provide to the region that the gov had to? But he didn’t want to for sundry reasons and so he got beat by someone who was willing to do it for less. Again, instead of complaining and trying to buy back your market through politics, why doesn’t the free-market conservative business class find a way to outprice, and outserve the public and therefore keep gov out of that area?

All of that narrative to get to my point: If you’re a fiscal/social conservative, and you despise the gov for wasting money on social safety nets and programs, then why don’t you pool your resources and give the gov a reason not to depend on social safety nets to keep social stability. Pay your workers more. Give them better benefits. Keep them on longer. Stop shipping jobs offshore to the lowest bidder. Plow profits back into communities instead of golden parachutes and stock options and other things that benefit only the CEO and the board and the upper management. We constantly hear from some that the church should be doing the social safety net stuff. Then why aren’t they? Why do they spend so much of their monies on building mega-churches, media empires, political action committees, etc? Why don’t they do everything in their power to take the gov’s burdens off its shoulders?

Ahhh, but there’s the catch. A lot of modern free-market-fundamentalist christian conservatives, especially in the business class, don’t really want to address that burden (economic hard times/cruel fate, etc) or alleviate the need in the first place. They would rather ignore, lock up or believe that such a burden does not exist. Making money and maintaining the individualistic, every-man-for-himself ethos is all that matters. “I’m getting mine, go take care of yourself” And if there’s social unrest that arises because of that obsession, then there’s a “tough-on-crime” brutal police force/penal system to take care of the malcontents. They don’t want to help people, at least not in a systemic way, who they generally deem not worthy of a hand up in the first place. Past and present, that seems to be anyone slightly different than them, whether it’s religion, gender, nationality or skin color or life circumstance. (ie the only people worthy of help are those who can help themselves…) It seems (at times) that some free-market businessmen don’t want to hire people in need of a job, unless he can exponentially profit from it. He rails against the gov for providing a hand-out to the jobless, the elderly, the handicapped, the young; but are he and his rich buddies going to do more than a few token charity events (with the concurrent perks like business/name recognition, entertainment, etc…all things a poorer man can never participate in…) to alleviate tough situations? No.

And so society, if it has some conscience, has no other choice but to turn to the one party at the table who represents a middle man/moderator in the situation, “Big Government”. Otherwise its social unrest and instability. So to the religious and/or libertarian, free-market-worshipping business class. Man-up. Stop whining. Beat the gov at its own game. Give the gov a good reason not to have social safety nets. Otherwise, be quiet, contribute your fair share to the common good via taxes/etc and be thankful for the extravagant american lives you live despite that taxation.


About Andrew Zook

Artist dad husband writer progressive post-evangelical emergent Anabaptist graphic designer web designer reader video editor
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