Thursday, April 02, 2009

I Can't Quit You Babe

In the latest edition of National Review Jonah Goldberg shows that when it comes to politics, big business is more than happy to get into bed with anyone. Right now, their pillow mates are mostly Democrats. Goldberg does a nice job explaining how each partner in these sordid trysts have their needs met (sub req):

That's the key to the tawdry relationship between big business and big government. What big business likes about big government is that it clears the field of those pesky smaller, more nimble and entrepreneurial competitors--you know, the actual free marketeers. Government meddling takes much of the guesswork out of business. Think of big utilities. In exchange for letting the government set their rates, they never have to worry about rivals. Profit margins are guaranteed and predictable. History records no instance where the CEO of an electrical utility missed a tee time because a competitor suddenly unveiled an exciting new product.

Likewise, what big government likes about big business is that it's easier to deal with. When the economy is run by a few giant firms, you always know whom to get on the phone. If you've got a social or economic policy to implement--affirmative action, employer-provided healthcare, the Americans with Disabilities Act--it's much easier to work with giant companies that can afford to pass the costs of compliance on to their customers. It's particularly easy if you're on a first-name basis with the CEOs because you've sat on panels with them--and Bono and George Clooney--in Davos and Aspen every winter and summer. Remember when Hillary Clinton was warned that her health-care plan would destroy countless smaller businesses and she responded with a shrug: "I can't go out and save every undercapitalized entrepreneur in America"? Why should she bother? It's not like those people go to Renaissance Weekend.

He also captures the conundrum this creates for free market conservatives and libertarians:

Meanwhile, what about us conservatives (and libertarians)? We're constantly being denounced as right-wing apologists for big corporations, but in reality we're like the longsuffering wives who make excuses for our husbands, even though they let us down time and time again. At the same time, we're constantly hearing from strategists who insist that the answer is to loosen up, baby--become more socially liberal while staying fiscally conservative. The key problem is that fiscal conservatism, whatever its merits, isn't economic conservatism in the free-market tradition of Hayek, Friedman, Reagan, et al. As a generalization, when people say they are fiscal conservatives but social liberals, what they are really saying is that they are, simply, moderate liberals. Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Arlen Specter, and the rest aren't socially conservative, and they aren't economically conservative either.

The perverse irony here is that most social conservatives tend to be economic conservatives as well (though one could say George W. Bush was socially conservative and fiscally liberal). Reaganite, pro-life conservatives also tend to be Reaganite free-marketers. Phil Gramm, the greatest deregulator of the last 20 years: pro-life. Ron Paul, the libertarian crusader: pro-life. Christine Todd Whitman and Colin Powell: They're pro-choice and pro-activist-government.

The really odd part about it all is that full-spectrum conservatives greatly outnumber the socially liberal crowd--yet they're supposed to be the problem. They--heck, we--enter the party as cheap dates and in due course become battered spouses. We make apologies for CEOs who don't care what we think, and we never complain about the ingratitude of institutions we support. We fight for free-trade agreements and tax cuts, and they repay us time and again by jumping into bed with Barack Obama. And they don't even bother to wash off the smell of his cologne.

That sad thing is that conservatives end up defending big business not because we have any special fealty towards it but because we're defending the principles of the free market. Unfortunately, as has been pointed out time and time again, big business has no particular interest in these principles unless they happen to benefit their bottom line so they're more than happy to throw conservatives to the curb as soon as the government hussy shows them a little leg (profit). What's even sadder is they know we'll still be there for them when (if?) they wake up the next day and realize the how fatal the attraction that they've been chasing really is.

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