Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Pseudo-Conservative Contradictions

I continue here my series of posts on Why Pseudo-Conservatives are Not "Conservative". The prior posts include: Recognition of the Need for the Term "Pseudo-Conservative", The Dawn of the Pseudo-Conservatives, Dawn of the Pseudo-Conservatives, Part 2 and Dawn of the Pseudo-Conservatives, Part 3.

“Conservatives” are supposed to be individualists who oppose the dominance over the individual by the collective. But most “conservatives” are enthusiastic supporters of the modern corporation and big business, artificial collectives that have a profound power over individuals. The power of corporations is exercised over its employees who are real individuals; this power is also exercised over every level of government through lobbyists, attorneys, tax accountants, industry associations, etc. As Robert Reich wrote in a 1981 Harvard Business Review article about business intermediaries to government: “They are about 12,000 Washington-based lawyers who represent business before regulatory agencies and the federal courts, the 9,000 lobbyists who represent business before Congress, the 42,000 trade association personnel who keep close watch on pending regulations and legislation, the 8,000 public relations specialists who advise business executives about regulatory issues, the 1,200 specialized journalists who report to particular industries on government developments that might affect them, the 1,300 public affairs consultants who provide regulatory officials with specialized information about particular industries.” And remember, that was 25 years ago.

Even Adam Smith, apparently a more honest and consistent advocate of classical liberalism than Milton Friedman, wrote: “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices (cited in Friedman, 2002, p. 131).” But Milton Friedman quickly dismisses this wise and obvious observation assuring us that “collusion or private cartel arrangements… are generally unstable and of brief duration unless they can call government to their assistance (emphasis added).” Friedman apparently did not think it necessary to take up the case of “government… assistance.” Yet it must be obvious to anyone but the most confirmed ideologue of the right that business has an immense ability to gain the government’s assistance in the most multi-faceted ways. If I, as an individual, contact my elected representative I am lucky to receive a letter in reply; if the CEO of a corporation calls there is no difficulty getting a face to face meeting; moreover, that corporate CEO may well have many “mercenaries” of wealth ready to fight on the corporation’s behalf. As FDR stated: "It was natural and perhaps human that the privileged princes of these new economic dynasties, thirsting for power, reached out for control over Government itself. They created a new despotism and wrapped it in the robes of legal sanction. In its service new mercenaries sought to regiment the people, their labor, and their property.”

Why do I call the corporation an “artificial collective”? Because the corporation was a human invention which over its history has been given immense special privileges. It is treated as an “individual” before the law. It has been granted the protections of “limited liability”. It facilitates the use of “other people’s money” by the chief executives of the corporation because it allows stock to be sold to a broad public for corporate purposes (see The Company: A Short History of a Revolutionary Idea, 2003, by John Micklethwait and A. Wooldridge). It is instructive to compare the history of great favoritism toward the corporation in America to the history of blatant discrimination against another modern collective, the union of working people. This discrminative treatment of unions is still very much with us, especially under Republican administrations (see "Dueling over Delphi").

The notion that “the corporation is the instrument of the stockholders who own it” (Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom, 2002, p. 135) is a patent fiction to anyone who, as part of a majority of stockholders, has had an interest contrary to that of corporate managers. It is certainly not the unorganized shareholders who run the corporation, nor is it the Board of Directors—which is selected by management (on this see Warren Buffett, a member of several Boards of Directors)—it is the highest executives who control the modern corporation. On the same page Milton Friedman allowed as he had heard of the charge that “modern business… involves the separation of ownership and control.” And what was Friedman’s sophisticated argument against this claim? “This charge is not true.” Case closed.

Thus, the only “collective” that pseudo-conservatives allegedly oppose is the “state” or government. But wait a minute. Pseudo-conservatives are not consistent in their opposition to the state either. Since most Americans of the right actively and aggressively support immense expenditures for “defense” and “national security”, and since these make the largest contribution to central government growth, they are not consistent opponents of aggrandizing state power. And since most of the radical right also supports the state in its policing power to maintain “law and order” and to oppose such evils as communism and terrorism, they are rarely supporters of civil liberties such as freedom of speech or freedom from illegal search and seizure. There are actually only a narrow group of issues on which pseudo-conservatives oppose state power. They tend to oppose government taxation and many government regulations. This makes them natural allies of what already is the most powerful political and cultural force in the United States, business interests. They also oppose government regulations upon ownership and use of guns. They frequently also oppose abortion rights as set down by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade.

Thus, “conservatives”, contrary to their public pronouncements cannot be defined as individualists opposing collectivism and state power. They are extremely inconsistent in their selective “individualism”.

Moreover, the moralism and values issues supported by the right frequently involve increases in government power over the individual. Making abortion illegal and enforcing this would increase government at the expense of the individual. Outlawing same sex marriage increases the power of the state at the expense of the individual. Prohibition was not only a failure but it contributed to growth in federal expenditures for law enforcement of 500% between 1920 and 1930 (Randall G. Holcombe, “THE GROWTH OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT IN THE 1920s”, The Cato Journal, Vol. 16, No. 2).

[The latter is a publication of the Cato Institute which tends to try to be more consistently libertarian (i.e., closer to a true classical liberal position), but the bias against labor is still present: Holcombe stated: "The substantial increase in expenditures on labor interests... primarily represent the Department of Labor budget, which included a diverse set of activities.... The Harding and Coolidge administrations had a pro-business reputation, but expenditures on labor-related activities soared during the 1920s." The latter statement makes it sound as though the extremely pro-business Harding and Coolidge administrations were nonetheless spending "soaring" amounts in support of "labor-related activities." What Mr. Holcombe failed to share with us is that after the Palmer raids of 1919-20 the major tool for fighting labor activists and other radicals who were foreign born (and a great many were immigrants) was deportation; deportation was handled by "the Labor Department, the agency then in charge of immigration" (see Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America, Ellen Schrecker, 1998, p. 58). Thus, many dollars of "labor-related activities" were anti-labor union and thoroughly consistent with the pro-business reputation of the Harding and Coolidge administrations.]

Those in America today, who call themselves “conservatives”, are not at all what they claim to be. They are radicals of the right who are hyper-nationalistic, support an essentially Jacobin crusading foreign policy, demand huge increases in government for "defense", usually oppose efforts to protect civil liberties, selectively oppose some government regulations while championing others, and are thoroughly allied with what is already the most powerful special interest in American life, the corporate and business lobby.

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