The Case Against Cronies and Crony Capitalism

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.”

Just because a company profits from a policy doesn’t make it “crony capitalism.” But when lawmakers go along with lobbyists’ requests, they are often subordinating the public interest to private interests — or at least showing more concern about the fate of the well-connected than the fate of the masses.
Milton Friedman said the social responsibility of companies was profits. But are companies who use cronyism to grow profit acting responsibly — or unethically?

If you regularly read Reason magazine or receive Club for Growth emails, you’re pretty familiar with the litany of corporate welfare and crony capitalism. In case you don’t, here’s a quick primer of corporate-government collusion since George W. Bush’s second term.

The 2005 and 2007 energy bills required drivers to buy ethanol, created a government loan-guarantee program for private sector green-energy projects, and effectively outlawed the traditional incandescent light bulb. Ethanol and the green-energy finance programs are pretty naked corporate welfare. General Electric and the light-bulb industry lobby supported the light-bulb law, which forces consumers to buy higher-profit-margin high-tech bulbs.

The Case Against Cronies: Libertarians Must Stand Up to Corporate Greed


Unfortunately, it seems that the future Aldous Huxley predicted in 1932, in Brave New World, is arriving early. Mockery, truculence, and minimalist living are best, then enjoy the decline. However, we do need a Revolving Door Tax (RDT), learn what Members of Congress pay in taxes, and prosecute politicians and staff and their “family and friends” who profit from insider trading.

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