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Free Market Politics In Peril

This week, GlobeScan published a very interesting summary of its poll on public attitudes towards the “free market”. Now, according to the report, only 59% of American’s believe the free market is the best economic system. This is more proof that, as Rush Limbaugh said, “words mean things”.

I will not go into trying to define a free market here, because the definition is irrelevant. It is the perception that is important, just as it is in any measure of attitudes on any issue. Here is where the political rhetoric of free market politics runs head-on into the oligopolistic reality of rigged markets in the United States.

The Far Right in the US has been very successful for decades in using the words of free market capitalism, while actually working to dismantle a truly free market by creating policies which concentrate market power into the hands of the corporate-political patrons.  The GOP’s policies over the past decades have successfully redistributed the wealth of the middle class into the hands of their corporate political patrons. They accomplished this through tax subsidies for multinational corporations, direct corporate welfare handouts to big agricultural conglomerates and bailouts for otherwise bankrupt (but somehow nonetheless profitable?) banks.

Those on the high end of the economic ladder love this rigged form of the “free market” because it removes the actual risk of the free market from their business models; the ventures themselves may fail, but their quest for profit is, well, profitable because the US government is there to keep them safe–from the free market.  The handouts to big business have to come from somewhere, and don’t think for a minute that the top end of the ladder should be expected to contribute to their own welfare. No, this all comes from stagnating wages, lost economic opportunities, and th inability of entrepreneurs to borrow money to start or expand a Main Street business to serve their communities. The list goes on.

The free market is in peril because people are starting to see through the rigged nature of the American “free market”. When you tell people enough times that the free market is the best system and that they are privileged to live and work in the greatest one on Earth, they will naturally begin to turn against that “free market” when they see that there are two different sets of rules in this system:  One set for those that have the economic power to have the ear of the politicians and thus receive taxpayer protections from free market forces and the other set which force the unprivileged to suffer the perils of “market discipline” with a shrinking safety net.

At the end of the day, this is really a warning to those that seek to use convenient bumper sticker slogans to move their agenda, while working to undermine the very words of what those bumper stickers are supposed mean. The warning to the GOP here (although it far too late for them to do anything about it): short-term tactical wins at any cost, using convenient words that have no meaning, will destroy the worldview that you are trying to get others to accept. Once people see through the fact that you are showing them a utopian “free market” which is rigged to force them to pay for the excesses of others while toiling under limited prospects for themselves, they are going to stop genuflecting to your alter of greed and reject you and that world view.

The GOP had such success with this approach for decades because they were, for the most part, dealing with the “me-first” generation. But having grown up under the banner of American selfishness, the next few generations will reject it, as demonstrated by the results of these polling trends. There is still hope for a free market that allows for the efficient movement of goods, while ensuring protections for the society that that market serves. But, happily, there is no hope for the acceptance of the now obviously rigged system we have in the United States.

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About Gary S. Barkley