There is something very wrong in this country, and your average resident is, in a word, apoplectic.
In February 2009, CNBC business news editor Rick Santelli stood on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and launched into a fuming tirade over the government’s plan to refinance mortgages for consumers upside-down on their homes.
As he raged about the government subsidizing failure and bailing out the irresponsible, Santelli fired the first shot in what would become a major political force in this country: “We’re thinking of having a Chicago Tea Party in July. All you capitalists that want to show up to Lake Michigan, I’m gonna start organizing,” he said.
And thus the tea party movement was born.
It was born of the sense that good, decent, responsible people who did the right thing were now on the hook for other people’s irresponsibility. We bailed out the people who risked too much and made stupid decisions, and the people who were asked to pay for it were the ones who acted responsibly.
Our government acted just as irresponsibly, spending money we didn’t have on things we didn’t need and leaving our kids to pay the bill all while giving themselves more power and more bills to pay. More than anything, the tea party was angry that the government has too much power and has abused it.
But now there is a new kid on the block. A fresh group of incensed residents, this time mostly from the left, called Occupy Wall Street has been making an increasingly large amount of noise recently. In Maine, a local group affiliated with the movement called Occupy Maine has been rattling its sabers as well.
The focus of this group’s rage is not the government but corporate greed. It is their belief that ordinary residents are getting hosed because bankers, corporate tycoons and greedy capitalists have engorged their own wallets at the expense of average Americans. A mirror of the tea party, the Occupy Wall Street crowd is angry that large corporations have too much power and have abused it.
But if I may make a supposition, I would suggest that they’re both right, and wrong. The problem isn’t that the government has too much power or that greedy corporations have too much power. The problem is that they both have too much power and are in bed with each other. The problem is the convergence of their power and how each benefits from the other having more of it.
Corporations, especially big ones, love the government having more authority. Setting rules means that those rules can be manipulated to help them and hurt their competition, and the big boys have the money to lobby for the best deal while smaller businesses have no such access.
The government begins to selectively protect certain corporations or economic sectors and markets get distorted. Companies that have no business growing and succeeding end up doing so. This creates phony value and perverted incentive.
The government, in turn, loves to use economic malaise to demand new authority, supposedly so it can fix what is broken. Big business is more than willing to support the imposition of new governmental powers, so long as the resulting rules and regulations are favorable to it.
It seems obvious to me that the biggest threat to our economy is neither the government nor the corporations. It is instead the unholy alliance of the two, working together. This helps no one, save politicians who want more power and corporations who want more profits. The incestuous relationship that the convergence of big government and big business has created is what has to be stopped.
The solution is not, as Occupy Wall Street believes, to give the government more power to punish the rich and attack corporations. That might make them feel better, but will only exacerbate the problem.
Let’s break up the government-business cartel. Power corrupts, and it only attracts those with influence and money who will abuse that power. If that power is weakened, the incentive for trying to buy that power goes dramatically down.
Take the teeth out of the government to play favorites and manipulate free markets, and the corporate parasites who feed off that power will wither and die. That’s something that both the right and left can cheer.
Matthew Gagnon, a Hampden native, is a Republican political strategist. He previously worked for Sen. Susan Collins and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and read his blog at www.pinetreepolitics.com.