As Crony Capitalism Reaches New Heights, Free Market GOP Dies

crony capitalismWhen you see that men get rich more easily by graft than by work, and your laws no longer protect you against them, but protect them against you, you may know that your society is doomed.” — Ayn Rand on crony capitalism

Ayn Rand was a poorly-edited philosopher who filled her landmark works with slippery slope fallacies, whose crowning achievement “Atlas Shrugged” culminated (spoiler alert) in the rescue of objectivist bore John Gault by a pack of pistol-packing industrialists in windbreakers. Yet as the goddess of supposed pure capitalists, Rand’s ideas have formed the philosophical underpinnings of an economic movement that has lost the purity of its own ideals. Hers is the concept that ambitious man (or woman) alone runs the world and that government is only useful to protect people physically, not to dictate markets, which would make crony capitalism a grave free-market treason.

President 45 has never hidden his desire to make massive profits for himself and his friends through the presidency. His refusal to disband his business interests, his naming of fellow elites from former Exxon king Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State to the dangerously underqualified Betsy DeVos (billionaire with no public school experience who literally did not do her homework on her hearing to be head of education) to even Bannon who, aside from being a top Trumpeteer was backed by billionaire psychopathic genius Robert Mercer as the hopeful hand to do Mercer’s paranoid bidding. Every law Trump has pushed speaks to his contacts in big oil (his flurry of pipeline bills in the first days), construction (his rollback of Obama regs that might actually keep cities like Houston out of flood plains but hinder builders) and of course the EPA (Icahn and basically all energy interests except the still-comparably-cash-poor but potential-full renewables).

Capitalism has been railroaded by croney capitalism in America almost since the start, but as calls for a free capitalist economy becomes the only debateable concept presented by GOP lawmakers, we’re faced with a simple question: Do American conservative lawmakers not understand capitalism or does its hypocrisy say it can preach free-market capitalism without planning on ever being subjected to its egalitarian underpinnings?

Das Kapital

Capitalism at its most basic is economic Darwinism, a pure relationship between supply and demand without externally manufactured (nee: government) factors interfering with creation, distribution, purchasing, and pricing of goods, as well as labor. It says that a company’s survival is based solely on its inherent fitness, not manufactured external environments. Like all -isms, capitalism is beautiful on paper and a mess in reality.

The most-cited concept is laissez faire economics, a magical vision of a utopian commerce universe devoid of government intervention. The problem is, commerce independent of government stops at the end of the driveway, where government roads begin. For all the talk of DC’s only role being to protect people’s physical wellbeing and rights, the highway outside the factory is just the beginning of government aid and a glaring example of officials artifically picking winers and loser. For example, I-80 through Wyoming and Idaho would’ve made more sense as our first transcon highway — it follows portions of the Oregon Trail and other historic routes. Or I-90, which followed the Lincoln Highway. Yet I-70 was the first one paved, and was extended through Utah to connect with I-15 at great expense. Now Denver’s the largest metropolis in the Rockies, thanks in big part to that preeminent connectivity. From the Interstate on, true capitalism in the U.S. reveals himself as his douchey gladhanding brother of free markets, that dude who screams about American individuality from the middle of a hundred-person frat house.

American Capitalism understands that true wealth is impossible without the infrastructure and power of a central government. It’s why the first American millionaires became so by lending money to buddies who were starting an anti-taxation revolution, only to demand repayment at full interest as their patriotic recompense immediately upon victory. In American Capitalism, we’ve reinvented hypocrisy, claiming success is our own while leaning on cops to kill striking workers (welcome to Labor Day) or mumbling that lobbyists aren’t just deliverymen for industry bribes (why legalize weed when Big Pharma can sell you high-priced chemicals that almost do most of the stuff marijuana does? At least until Big Pharma finds out a way to charge for it). It’s so that people shrug and claim the purchase of government favor is the end result of capitalism as everything is for sale in capitalism. But no, that’s crony capitalism, an STD of market libertinism that spreads like herpes to pox up the commercial pecker.

Crony Capitalism

It’s the golden rule, that whoever has the gold rules.

We left Britain because the British East India Company controlled the crown. We claimed we wanted to establish a fair and just society, where big business had no ability to force government tariffs, but our history points more at the idea that the American overlords just wanted to overthrow the British ones and start at the top of their own ladder.

It’s a universe where self-righteous blowhards ramble about pulling oneself up by his own bootstraps, often while they control the price of boots and limit sales to their friends or the rich (often one and the same).

Selling a good for the highest prices a buyer will pay and the seller will approve,  the mutually-agreed-upon deal, that’s capitalism. But American capitalism adds a gatekeeper while businesses suck on the invisible hand without acknowledging either. In true capitalism, there are winners and losers but it’s determined by just competition. In crony capitalism, the winners aren’t necessarily the ones who play the game the best but the ones who paid the refs the most.

Farm subsidies allow America’s growers to provide corn at an affordable rate, either at home or abroad. It’s complicated, sure, but the middle-America most blamed for Trump’s ascendance, the one claiming to have been hindered by the growth of government and shrinkage of American individualism, is heavily subsidized. Yet as they’re discovering, Trump’s push to end NAFTA and trade deals with the east, which goes hand in hand with huge corporate tax breaks to supposedly lure his buddies back to America, will punish these farmers.

Then there’s Trump as kingmaker – personally overseeing extortion of government funds paid to Carrier to keep jobs in America in his much-hyped delivery on his promise to get and keep jobs in America (though in the shadows they’re actually still leaving) or his pissing match with Boeing.

Sure, our capitalism has been far from pure for our history. But right now we’re entering what some have deemed late capitalism, the fall of the ivory tower, the crumbling of our supposed egalitarian core, and the biggest infection of this healthy disease is crony capitalism.

Crony capitalism 101: Icahn Dismantles His Regulators

One of Trump’s first supporters, who was eventually named a political adviser, was Carl Icahn. Icahn had taken ownership of a small refiner and to fix its balance sheets he had to gut EPA regs that required refiners buy credits. He couldn’t do that with environmentalism in the driver’s seat. If government’s role is to protect its citizens first and foremost, when fiscal health jeopardizes physical health the lawmakers’ priority should be to protect the physical health of its constituents. But Icahn, the controlling stakeholder in Trump Entertainment, was key in approving Scott Pruitt as the head of the EPA. Pruitt, a man who promised to dismantle the org that regulates polluters. Who ensure our air is clean to breathe and our water is clean to drink.

Icahn’s influence led Trump to talk about issuing an exec order changing the credits requirement. Luckily for us, the influence of big ag was just as strong and corn growers, who’ve benefited from ethanol’s gains over conventional oil, put some weight on the Dotard to not issue it. A battle of the big interests won by an industry over one man, some solace there but still, Icahn’s company made a huge gain by shorting the credits it was supposed to buy, done on the eve of the whisperings of the executive order. This is a side effect of crony capitalism, where you get your puppet on the throne to change the market enough that it just benefits you for a quick payday. And this is the real goal of our current administration.

Crony capitalism a sign of the end

That’s why seemingly America’s conservative voice has dropped its worship at the pedestal of capitalism. It’s why suddenly deficits are OK. It’s why the high tide has raised the average American to the sand but wealthy Americans have been lifted to the penthouse atop the docks. It’s why the ones who complain that tariffs and regulations hurt free markets have been calling out for MORE international tariffs and regulations. Crony capitalism bastardizes the free markets to value those who can buy power over those who can make a better product; it ranks influence over innovation, taking us closer to an oligarchy than a capitalist democracy.

The irony of Trump’s relationship with Russia is that he seems to want to turn us into this country that we’ve long held as the antithesis of Americanism, where the sycophantic colleagues of the supreme leader succeeds without limit or obeisance to the laws of God or man while the true value-makers get crushed for disloyalty and challenging the stagnation inherent in status quo.

Some say crony capitalism is the natural evolution of capitalism but that’s technically not true. Crony capitalism is one of the final stages of DECLINE of the system of capitalism, a massive malignant tumor before we’re turned back into some half-ass cancerous monarchy where pedigree and caste are the main determinants to what you can do with your life. Or at the least a collapse to a period of financial and societal anarchy. The last gilded age segued into the flourishing of organized crime and a Depression like we’d never seen. When today’s robber barons are finally called to task, there’ll be hell to pay.

As the crony capitalists fill their guts with hordes of lucre thanks to regulation swings and no-bid contracts orchestrated by a dimwitted scion with a head for sensationalism and a soulless hunger for self-aggrandizement and personal profits, true free enterprise dies. What’s sad is that the party that prides itself on its perceived role as the keeper of the free market is the one overseeing its very murder.

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Ryan Ariano

Born and raised in Baltimore, Ryan has been kicking around the west since the first Clinton White House. Having worked all over SoCal in the surf industry, Hollywood, marketing, journalism and finance, he now hangs his hat just outside Jackson Hole where he can fulfill an addiction to ascending and descending mountains.

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