Category: Crony Capitalism

We welcome guest writer Stephen Schmalhofer to the PowerBlog with this review of Good Profit: How Creating Value for Others Built One of the World’s Most Successful Companies by Charles Koch (Crown Business, 2015). Schmalhofer writes from New York City, where he works in technology and venture capital. He is a graduate of Yale University.

Charles Koch’s Metaphysics of Business

By Stephen Schmalhofer

Adam Smith, that venerable a supporter of free enterprise, held businessmen in low regard, alleging that their every meeting “ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.” While deference is due to the Scottish master’s lasting insights into the sources of the values of men in The Theory of Moral Sentiments and their success in The Wealth of Nations, I observe that many executives tout their “core values” but not all of these companies are successful. Businessman and philanthropist Charles Koch is successful by any financial measure and his unique approach to the creation of value and values at Koch Industries in Wichita, Kansas, where he is chief executive officer, positions him against Smith’s caricature of scheming backroom businessmen.

Charles Koch

Charles Koch

Since 1967, Koch has overseen operations at Koch Industries where he developed and implemented “Market-Based Management.” Following a large acquisition by Koch Industries in 2004, he urgently systematized the method and continues to share it with the fervor of an evangelist. Koch’s first book on the method was grandiosely titled The Science of Success: How Market Based Management Built the World’s Largest Private Company but in 2015 he re-entered the marketplace of ideas with a more accessible version — Good Profit: How Creating Value for Others Built One of the World’s Most Successful Companies.

Removing the pretense of science from the title better reflects the method’s foundation in the ideas of spontaneous order and the price system articulated by Austrian economist F.A. Hayek rather than in the pseudo-scientific central planning opposed by the Nobel laureate. Koch Industries’ business model is based on acquiring complementary companies that either enhance, or can be improved by, the performance of existing Koch business units. Koch managers seek to integrate these new acquisitions into the company’s operations to realize the expected gains from economies of scale and knowledge sharing. But this integration can blunt the information signals provided by external networks as well as create wasteful internal political battles, especially over budgets and other signs of corporate status unrelated to “good profit.” (more…)

bernie-sanders-photo1In last Tuesday’s Democratic debate, Senator Bernie Sanders stayed true to his famed aversion to capitalism, proclaiming the fanciful virtues of “democratic socialism.” Yet when prodded by Anderson Cooper — who asked, “you don’t consider yourself a capitalist?” — Sanders responded not by attacking free markets, but by targeting a more popular target of discontent: Wall Street and the banks.

“Do I consider myself part of the casino capitalist process by which so few have so much and so many have so little, by which Wall Street’s greed and recklessness wrecked this economy?” Sanders asked. “No, I don’t.”

One could be forgiven for not understanding what Sanders means by “casino capitalism.” Is it crony capitalism, in which legislative favors are secured by the rich and powerful (which conservatives also disdain)? Is it bailouts for the big banks (which, again, conservatives also disdain)? Is it basic trade and exchange on a large, complex scale, and if so, at what size does it become problematic? Does he despise the stock exchange itself? Too loud with all its blinky lights and bells? (more…)

Yes, there really is a headstone cartel, at least in New Jersey. The Monument Builders Association of New Jersey are the only ones who can sell, carve, deliver and install headstones.

One might think this is all right (after all, headstones aren’t that creative] but there is at least one church cemetery that would like the right to sell their own headstones to the patrons of their cemeteries. So the Archbishop of Newark took the headstone cartel to court. Liberty & Law explains the issue:

U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, in an article for www.mlive.com, discussed the recent charter expiration of the Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im) and how that is a good first-step toward reducing the corporate welfare and crony capitalism that has infected American politics and economics:

If a man swipes your wallet, he’s a thief. We don’t ask whether the pickpocket ultimately spent the cash on a worthy cause. Yet, supporters of corporate welfare would have you believe that as long as the companies receiving welfare prosper, you shouldn’t care that the government snatched your money to make it happen.

The moral implications of cronyism are abundant. As public/private partnerships expand, the market system slowly transforms from free enterprise and competition driven by market forces to government control of who succeeds and fails based on loans or bailouts to favored groups and corporations. In an interview with the Acton Institute’s Religion & Liberty, Peter Schweizer discussed how cronyism is creating a moral crisis and how it is affecting the poor:

Our poverty programs get distorted by crony corporations. Just look at how the food stamp program has expanded over the years. Initially, it was a safety net to provide basic provisions, and most people agree basic safety nets are needed. The problem is that when the government started throwing around billions of dollars, the snack food and soft drink industry saw dollar signs. So they lobbied and got the regulations changed so that snack food and sodas are now covered by government assistance. It’s now a $10 billion industry for soft drink companies. Then it got expanded to include convenience stores, and now you’ve got the fast food industry lobbying lawmakers to let people use EBT cards at fast food establishments.

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pope plant“Laudato si, mi’ Signore!” Both the title and first line of the most recent papal encyclical come from St. Francis’ canticle which looks at nature as a great gift, but you all know that. Every news source worth its salt made that clear before the encyclical was released (either time); yet, we as Christians are called to be salt of the Earth. This entails more than a brief glance at the word on the street about the ecological pronouncement. What is at stake here is the central call of humanity: to till and keep the gifted garden (Genesis 2:15). The first human was placed in this role of cultivation of the earth even before being told to not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. There was a promise to act and a law to keep. The Bible is divided into two halves: law in the Old Testament and promise in the New Testament. The call to be salt of the earth is about the Christian life fulfilling that promise. Note that the law followed the promise in the order of our creation. Core to human being was first the love of the life of the world–the greatest commandment as Christ said. So, then why is the reactionary focus of the encyclical even before it was released surrounded upon the policy, the law, that it would inspire and not the call to promise?

Surely within the encyclical there is language that leads to law being created. What Pope Francis has seen in the world directly articulates the life he leads–one unaccepting of a “globalization of indifference” for any child of God’s in need. (more…)

bail bondsYou may think that if you’re a law-abiding citizen, the concept of “bail” may be irrelevant. Well, maybe you forgot to pay your car insurance. Or maybe your license lapsed. You get pulled over because your tail light is out. It’s not a violent crime – a lapse in judgement, or a lack of money, perhaps.

And suddenly you need bail. $1000, the judge tells you, or you have to go to Rikers Island, New York’s main prison complex. You and 140,000 criminals. And someone like Robert Durst, accused of murder in Texas, is able to cough up a quarter million and walk away free.

America’s for-profit bail system is a $14 million a year industry, and the U.S. is one of only two countries that allows a for-profit system. According to a 2012 Justice Policy Institute report:

For-profit bail bonding costs taxpayers through increased jail and other justice expenses. In addition, it impacts people from low income communities – generally the loved ones of the accused person – who must pay nonrefundable fees for the bond regardless of case outcome and who, through contracts with the bondsmen, bear the real monetary risk of paying the full bail amount in the event of a court no-show.

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Great and powerful Oz

Great and powerful Oz

According to Merriam-Webster, “cronyism” is ” the unfair practice by a powerful person (such as a politician) of giving jobs and other favors to friends.” For instance, former Detroit mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, surrounded himself with friends and family members while in office, as he cheerfully plundered the city’s coffers, sharing the wealth with his entourage.

It’s easy to think that cronyism is like Oz: far, far away. Yes, there are tricky creatures there, but heavens, we here in Kansas won’t be affected by shiny streets and glowing horses.

Not true. The economy shapes the culture. What happens in Oz, if you will, is felt in Kansas. And not only felt in Kansas, but eventually begins to seep into the Kansas culture. Why shouldn’t I have an army of flying monkeys to protect my farm? Why shouldn’t I sidle up to the Wicked Witch and make sure she’s on my side? You never know. Michael A. Needham and Ryan T. Anderson state,

While cronyism is most recognizable when it generates economic windfalls for the favored few, conservatives would do well to explain that it also operates in other realms. Indeed, for decades, the Left has been seeking special advantages from government in its effort to reshape the character of American society. So, if you’re against the government arbitrarily picking winners and losers in the economy, you need to be against it doing the same in the culture. If Solyndra and the Export-Import Bank are a problem, so too is government funding for Planned Parenthood and government discrimination against Catholic Charities.

We call this sort of government special-interest-seeking “cultural cronyism.”

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