Obama's Crony Capitalism

It's time to separate market and state

When will you wing nuts stop referring to our economic restructuring as "socialism"? Winning the 21st century is all about business.

This week, a pro-business Barack Obama implored the rent-seeking CEOs of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to look into their sinister hearts: "Ask yourselves what you can do for America. Ask yourselves what you can do to hire American workers, to support the American economy and to invest in this nation."

Have our American businessfolk neglected to ponder the possibility that they could hire more employees and "support" the economy? Somehow I doubt it. But if corporate America is merely a cesspool of mindlessly selfish cretins who refuse to "invest" in the future by creating unproductive jobs to help build the subsidized ammunition we'll need to win future centuries, maybe they just need some prodding.

What we need is an economy run by technocrats to guide our business efforts through regulatory agencies, pick winners and losers, and mete out economic justice; business, as the president explained, should "share" their profits.

But which corporations are behaving admirably? Whom do we turn to in these dark times? Who can be bought to do the right thing?

"Right now, businesses across this country are proving that America can compete," Obama explained, listing a number of businesses that get it, such as Caterpillar, Whirlpool, Dow, and a company named Geomagic.

All of these phenomenal success stories (thanks to Ira Stoll at the blog "The Future of Capitalism" for pointing this out) also share, in one way or another, the privilege of feeding at gov'ment's welfare trough. Oh, yes, these exemplars of good corporate citizenry prove they can compete in a marketplace with taxpayer funds. Which will no doubt make them more compliant with the administration's wishes.

General Electric's CEO, Jeffrey Immelt, whom Obama recently appointed to lead his new panel on "job creation," understands this new reality. One of the nation's most effective cronies, Immelt's company has benefited from government bailouts, waivers, and lines of credit. A real icon of capitalism, Immelt.

On a completely separate issue, Immelt has also supported every initiative the president has forwarded from the stimulus—"Bold, visionary action!"—and cap and trade (under which, unlike you, GE would benefit financially), and he embraces all the subsidies that come with the progressive green agenda.

It's comfortable, no doubt, to be insulated from failure and market-driven innovation and competition. But even an administration as uncontaminated by greed and corruption as Obama's may become susceptible to political favoritism as it offers an ear and help to those who help it.

Now, we hear that the putrid job situation—kept at an illusory 9 percent through an exodus from the job marketplace—has nothing to do with instability created by regulatory overreach in various departments of government. It has nothing to do with a $1 trillion federal deficit or a $14 trillion debt hanging over the entire economy. And it's got absolutely nothing to do with a new health insurance mandate that brings higher taxes and costs with every new hire a company undertakes.

If this were true, the administration wouldn't have had to grant more than 700 waivers—40 percent to unions representing only 7 percent of the private work force of the nation—to help companies avoid the regulatory burden and cost of Obamacare even before all the goodness trickles down to the common man. These entities will be very grateful, no doubt.

But do we want more corporate welfare or less? Do we want more subsidized industries or fewer? What Obama has been championing might work for GE, but how it would work for the rest of us is a mystery.

David Harsanyi is a columnist at The Denver Post and the author of Nanny State. Visit his website atwww.DavidHarsanyi.com. This column first appeared at Reason.com.

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