Depending upon which one of the two standard political/economic ideologies — liberal or conservative — one advocates, blame for the growing wealth inequality and for the stubbornly high unemployment in America is generally placed on either a rigged economic game that favors entrenched special interests or on big government interference with the free market. In fact, both work in conjunction to cause the troublesome economic conditions.
Americans would like to believe that its representative democracy works for the general welfare, the best interests of all the people, but, of course, it does not; not only because wealthy special interests have inordinate influence over government but also because American society is so diverse — more a stew pot than a melting pot. Apathy on many issues is common while consensus on any issue is rare. This allows — maybe requires — politicians to be as consistent as chameleons and as trustworthy as cats.
Regardless of their professed political/economic ideologies or party affiliation, politicians participate in manipulating the law and regulatory functions to curry the favor or avoid the wrath of moneyed interests who can finance election campaigns or provide lucrative private sector opportunities to the politicians.
No more hefty example of such crony capitalism is found than in the 40,000 pages of the U.S. tax code, much of which was effectively written by corporate lawyers and lobbyists to ensure the code benefits their clients.
An oversized, intrusive government has become a very effective device by which special interests can promote their selfish agendas and gain advantage over others. The result is that the best interests of the many rarely trump the selfish interests of the few. At every level of government, regulatory powers are used to tilt the economic playing field this way and that to determine winners and losers. Members of both political parties actively engage in tilting the monopoly board.
A recent example of ideological hypocrisy born of political venality is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s refusing to veto legislation that prohibits upstart car manufacturer, Tesla, from selling its cars directly to consumers. Christie, an avowed free-marketeer, betrayed his principles to please New Jersey’s auto dealers lobby. As usual, the ostensible justification for this meddlesome legislation is some vague concern over protecting the public. From what, free-market competition?
Traditional car dealers’ lobbies in other states are pressuring politicians to quash Tesla’s direct-marketing approach by passing laws that would prevent the electric car maker from taking orders, discussing price or giving test drives.
Another start-up business that threatens established competitors is Airbnb, an online site that allows travelers to find and rent affordable rooms from private parties. Although millions of homeowners and travelers benefit from this service, the established hotel industry does not and has mounted furious lobbying efforts to derail Airbnb charging that the online site is unfair competition. Why? Because it is more efficient and customers love it?
What is unfair is government tilting the playing field away from one player to benefit another. This tilting has become pervasive at every level of government where the explosive growth in licensing regulations has allowed paid-for politicians to interfere with and manipulate even the most pedestrian economic activities — including dog grooming, hair braiding and peddling homemade cookies.
A perfect example of regulatory excess and the total lack of common sense by busy-body bureaucrats is the case of local authorities busting a 10-year-old girl for selling cookies without a license — a license she cannot get without baking her cookies in a separate commercial kitchen.
Economic freedom in the pursuit of individual happiness made America the economic marvel of the world. In the post industrial economy where merciless efficiencies leave little lifetime employment with big companies, economic self-sufficiency earned by independently marketing one’s skills, products or services is the alternative for many folks. More than ever, America needs a level playing field to realize this alternative.
Yet, when entrenched special interests collude with politicians to misuse government power to artificially maintain economic hegemony by suppressing competitive free-market entrepreneurism, it not only denies people the opportunity to create wealth and support themselves but it also contributes to the eventual undoing of American society.
The Institute for Justice is a nonprofit national law firm whose mission is to help individual citizens secure their basic rights — including private property, economic liberty, free speech and school choice — from an over-reaching government that has denied them these rights. This organization has successfully helped thousands of Americans level the playing field. Additionally, it has the only law school clinic in the nation focusing exclusively on assisting low-income entrepreneurs start exclusively private-sector businesses.
This is exactly what is needed to renew economic opportunity in America.