“What’s a crony? It’s like having a best friend who gives you other people’s stuff.”
Alejandro Chafuen, president and chief executive officer of Atlas Economic Research Foundation and board member of the Acton Institute, recently wrote a piece for Forbes.com about crony capitalism.
Chafuen used to spend his summers in Argentina, so he begins his article with a story about a friend from Argentina. Enrique Piana, known to his friends as “Quique,” was heir to “Argentina’s oldest and most respected trophy and medals companies.”
During part of the ’90s, the government of President Carlos Menem, and then-Minister Domingo Cavallo, had a policy for the importation of gold and exports of gold fabrications that amounted to a major subsidy for exporters. Attracted by the incentives, Quique, who had become CEO of his company, became a key player in a scheme whereby exporting overvalued gold-plated products netted them 30 million in subsidies for fake transactions. As it seems that none of the medals were sold at artificial value to true customers, the only victims here ended up being the Argentine tax-payers.
The scheme involved a “business” in the United States. As there is still substantial respect for rule of law in the United States, Quique was indicted, captured, and—after some months in a U.S. jail—extradited to Argentina. In his book, he lists the government officials who he claims knew about the scheme and who received bribes for his fraudulent activities. I will not mention them here. None of them were sentenced to jail. (more…)
Crony Chronicles, an online resource about crony capitalism, wants to help college students and/or campus groups interested in exposing and eradicating corporate welfare. They are offering free kits for anyone interested.
These kits will contain:
- 100 informational flyers on corporate welfare to give to students after they sign a postcard
- 100 post cards addressed to a senator telling them you want to end corporate welfare, and so should they
- 100 hilarious bumper stickers
- 100 candy coins to give out
And great resources to help you make the most out of your event!
The event must be held between March 5-7, to ensure that the postcards from all the campus groups participating will be delivered to the senator around the same time to have the most impact.
So, what are you waiting for? Just fill out this short form to request a FREE kit today. The deadline to apply for a kit is February 20th!
For more information about these kits, check out their page here.
Sojourners’ Jim Wallis has been at the Davos gathering in Switzerland and is urging us to be guided by a new Davos “covenant.” If you’ve never heard of Davos, Michael Miller’s RealClear Politics piece “Davos Capitalism” describes the gathering and its unassailable hubris this way:
Davos capitalism, a managerial capitalism run by an enlightened elite–politicians, business leaders, technology gurus, bureaucrats, academics, and celebrities–all gathered together trying to make the economic world smarter or more humane…. And we looked up to Davos Man. Who wouldn’t be impressed by the gatherings at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum at Davos, a Swiss ski resort? Sharply dressed, eloquent, rich, famous, Republican, Democrat, Tory, Labour, Conservative, Socialist, highly connected, powerful and ever so bright.
Then, when the whole managerial economy collapsed, the managers and technocrats lost faith in markets. But they did not lose faith in themselves, and now they want us to entrust even more of the economy to them.
As if on cue, Jim Wallis writes in a recent public letter:
This week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, we are looking to the future and asking “what now?” At a Saturday session — “The Moral Economy: From Social Contract to Social Covenant” — a document will kick off a year-long global conversation about a new “social covenant” between citizens, governments, and businesses.
Why dispense with the yeomen-like “contract” language in favor of a new “social covenant”? Wallis explains that “in the past 20 years, the world has witnessed the death of social contracts. We have seen a massive breakdown in trust between citizens, their economies, and their governments…. Former assumptions and shared notions about fairness, agreements, reciprocity, mutual benefits, social values, and expected futures have all but disappeared. The collapse of financial systems and the resulting economic crisis not only have caused instability, insecurity, and human pain; they have also generated a growing disbelief and fundamental distrust in the way things operate and how decisions are made.” (more…)
I recently asked the question at Ethika Politika, “Which Capitalism?” (also the title of my article), and I followed it up with a related question here regarding the relationship between distributism and capitalism (is the former a form of the latter?). In addition, Jordan Ballor reflected last week on the different orientation of definitions of capitalism and socialism, observing, “One definition [i.e. capitalism] is focused on structure, the other [i.e. socialism] is connected with moral ideals.”
Google Chairman Eric Schmidt defended the company’s practices [of taking certain tax exemptions], saying:
We pay lots of taxes; we pay them in the legally prescribed ways…. I am very proud of the structure that we set up. We did it based on the incentives that the governments offered us to operate.
So far so good. He didn’t make the rules that privilege his firm, but he will avail himself of these privileges when offered. I can sympathize. I oppose the mortgage interest deduction but still take it every April. Schmidt’s next statement, however, is about as far from the mark as one can get:
It’s called capitalism…. We are proudly capitalistic. I’m not confused about this.
A quick lesson for Mr. Schmidt: genuine capitalism is about competing on a level playing field for customer dollars. If you offer a superior product or service, customers will reward you by voluntarily parting with their money in exchange for what you offer. (more…)
Turns out that cronyism hits more than just your pocketbook. There’s a good chance it’s hitting your waistline too.
That’s the takeaway from this editorial by Charles Lane. You see, cheese is one of the highest fat foods we eat, and our country overproduces cheese because of government created market distortions.
Charles Lane points out how price supports for milk lead to an overproduction of milk. We have more milk than we would ever drink in its liquid form. So where does all the surplus go? It gets turned into butter and cheese. Basically, because milk is overproduced, the cost of producing other dairy products declines, lowering prices for consumers and increasing the amount of cheese that is consumed.
Which sounds great, until you remember we have an obesity problem in the United States. And the fact that farmers are already better off than most families. Price supports, subsidies, and quotas all represent market distortions that benefit the politically connected, rather than representing what the people that make up the market really want. I guess we can be thankful the milk is at least used for something, unlike other cases of government managed food policy.
The point is, if we find ourselves concerned that the American diet is contributing to obesity, maybe we should first stop subsidizing it? As Lane concludes in his opinion piece:
When you think about it, the whole trillion-dollar farm bill amounts to a vast federal subsidy to this country’s sugary, starchy, cheesy diet, filled out with grain-fed beef, pork and chicken.
I love candy, pizza and hamburgers as much as the next guy. I just don’t see why businesses that profit by supplying that diet deserve an advantage over potential innovators and competitors. Still less do I see why they should get that advantage at taxpayer expense.
Last week, PowerBlogger Andrew Knot and I wrote posts about American sugar policy and farm subsidies, respectively. Now, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, as well as the Catholic Relief Services and National Catholic Rural Life Conference, have come out with a joint letter on the 2012 farm bill that just passed the Senate. Among other things, they urge Congress to reduce agricultural subsidies, and limiting crop insurance to small and medium sized farms.
In 2010, the government gave out $96 billion in farm subsidies. As I pointed out last week, the median farmer’s income is already 25 percent higher than the median American’s. Furthermore, most of the farm money is going to a small number of the farmers. Big farms tend to get a much larger share of the handout than small and medium sized farms do. American agricultural policies represent welfare and protectionism for the already well off.
The USCCB’s letter can be read here.
This morning I found that a commenter on my post about government failure in feeding the poor in India had complained that we should not trust “corporations who own the government.” I think this is a point worth further consideration. After all, I would argue that in the United States we have lousy agricultural policy. We essentially still have policies from the Great-Depression era aimed at manipulating prices, and business interests predictably engaging in a form of regulatory capture.
Jordan Ballor and Ray Nothstine wrote a good piece in Acton Commentary on the issue of agricultural policy here. I particularly like their discussion on Abraham Kuyper:
What the Dutch theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper said of the manual laborers of the nineteenth century is equally true of agricultural workers in the twenty-first. “Unless you wish to undermine the position of the laboring class and destroy its natural resilience,” he warned, “the material assistance of the state should be confined to an absolute minimum. The continuing welfare of people and nation, including labor, lies only in powerful individual initiative.”
When you look at the numbers, the simple fact is that most of the farm subsidies are given to large farms, not the small farmer whose image is used by those lobbying for welfare. I highly recommend Veronique de Rugy’s Washington Examiner op-ed on this issue. She points out that the median farming household earns a wage 25 percent higher than the median American household. Are these the people who need welfare? (more…)
“It’s helpful to look at the track record of this bipartisan idea that government is smarter and better at picking winners and losers in the marketplace,” said House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan at a recent hearing on efforts to combat cronyism and promote upward mobility. “What we have learned from this bipartisan approach is that corruption does occur, cronyism does occur, and what ends up happening is those who are connected, those who have established connections, those who know the ways of Washington end up usually getting the benefits.”
Director of Research Samuel Gregg’s thoughts on the debate are up at The Corner. He sees a parallel between the Italian crisis unfolding across the ocean and the problems facing the United States — particularly in Michigan, where this debate was held. The collapse of Italy would certainly be a dramatic illustration of the shortcomings of crony capitalism, and Gregg thinks a candidate could find a majority of voters who don’t want that to happen.
With the Italian-flavored shadow of the European Union’s ongoing financial implosion overhanging the United States, it was expected that America’s own fragile economic state would be front-and-center at this debate.
This time, however, there was less argument among the GOP candidates. Instead, there were far more direct critiques of (1) President Obama and (2) the pattern of crony capitalism with which more and more Americans are visibly losing patience. The debate’s setting — the state of Michigan — is a living exemplar of all the fallacies of bailouts and business-union collusion, as well as a failure to promote the type of innovation that produces wealth but that also threatens businesses (like the Detroit car companies) that don’t like competition.
Also noticeable was the increased willingness of the candidates to advocate market solutions to any number of problems, the most prominent being America’s ongoing mortgage farce, the looming crisis of student debt, and the inexorable rise in health-care costs. That’s a welcome development. If this trend keeps up, maybe one of them will make the dismantling of crony capitalism a central plank of his platform. That won’t please the likes of General Electric and the City of Chicago, but there are surely votes there.