Five years ago, a new quirky-sounding consumer-rights group set up shop in a sleepy corner of Capitol Hill. “Consumers for Paper Options is a group of individuals and organizations who believe paper-based communications are critically important for millions of Americans,” the group explained in a press release, “especially those who are not yet part of the online community.”
This week, Consumers for Paper Options scored a big win, according to the Wall Street Journal. Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Mary Jo White has abandoned her plan to loosen rules about the need to mail paper documents to investors in mutual funds.
Mutual funds were lobbying for more freedom when it came to mailing prospectuses — those exhaustive, bulky, trash-can-bound explanations of the contents of your fund. In short, the funds wanted to be free to make electronic delivery the default, while allowing investors to insist on paper delivery. This is an obvious common-sense reform which would save whole forests of trees.
Consumers for Paper Options fought back. The group warned that changing the default from paper to electronic delivery would “Confuse potentially millions of investors who suddenly stop seeing important printed fund performance material from investment firms.”
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This is almost laughable: A D.C. lobbyist forming a sham “consumer” protection to fight for federal rules requiring more paper and envelopes be wasted, while getting paid by the envelope lobby.
But the envelope CEOs and the paper lobbyists aren’t the only ones who care about keeping this junkmail flowing. Those paper mills that exist in the U.S. are deeply threatened by digitization. Among the shrinking list of things that go on paper these days are things the government forces people to put on paper. Allow mutual funds to mail fewer prospectuses, and those paper mills will lose a significant amount of work.
The employees at these mills will see their hours reduced, if they’re not simply laid off. The added costs of mailing me unwanted paper nibbles away the value of my retirement account, but is a tiny uptick in my 401(k) really worth laying off paper mill worker in East Millinocket, Maine?
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Here’s the thing about the federal rule requiring the mailing of the prospectus: It’s absurd and wasteful, and it differs only in degree from most subsidies whose defenders use the same “save the jobs” rhetoric.
For most of US history, crony capitalism has been in a struggle with free-market capitalism for the heart and soul of the American economy. For the past half century, crony capitalism has been gaining the upper hand. There are many reasons why, all of which can be traced to the insatiable desire of the state to gain and hold power.
It’s time for a free-market corporate social responsibility. Conservatives who rail against government hand-outs should also blast companies who seek shelter from Washington.
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The Republican attack on President Obama’s economic policy has changed subtly, but significantly, in the last three years. In 2009, he was allegedly a “socialist” and a “Marxist” who lusted for government control of the entire economy. But lately, that has given way to more nuanced charges of “crony capitalism” — of giving special, friendly treatment to certain companies and industries, or allowing powerful corporations to essentially write the laws, themselves.
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Voters despise government officials who get in bed with corporations. But what about corporations who cozy up to government? Are companies who use cronyism to grow their profit acting unethically?
The question makes some free-marketeers uneasy. After all, we not only tolerate the fierce pursuit of profit, but also we defend it against taxes and heavy-handed regulation. Milton Friedman famously said, “The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits.”
But in the age of crony capitalism, libertarians must declare that some means of pursuing profit are immoral and call on executives to reject them. This would create a positive case for capitalism — arguing that the pursuit of profit, in the context of fair and open competition, helps the whole society. The new corporate social responsibility, redefined for libertarians, must stand athwart crony corporatism yelling “stop.”
Crony capitalism is not the same as free markets, it is a politicized economy.
Cronyism diverts resources away from the wants and needs of consumers and toward political purposes. Cronyism occurs when an individual or organization colludes with government officials to create unfair legislation and/or regulations which give them forced benefits they could not have otherwise obtained voluntarily. Those benefits come at the expense of consumers, taxpayers, and everyone working hard to compete in the marketplace.