A free market, purely capitalist in nature? It doesn’t exist—not in this country, anyway, despite right-wing claims to the contrary.
So argue Hacker and Pierson (co-authors: Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer—and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class, 2010, etc.), political scientists at Yale and Berkeley, respectively. Elaborated at length, their thesis is simple: America’s economy and its economic success owes to its mixed nature, blending private enterprise “in producing and allocating goods and innovating to meet consumer demand” with government investment in infrastructure, education, and other areas. Most advanced economies show a similar mix, with the state ideally ensuring that the “invisible hand” winds up on the right lever. Even Adam Smith, write the authors, recognized that so-called rational actors can act to the detriment of the whole when they pursue their self-interests. Yet the current and dominant political mode, courtesy of such agents as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the brothers Koch, is the demand to remove the government from the mix or, better, to use government as a piggy bank to loot without government being able to influence the direction of the market or curb the self-interests of those rational actors. Hacker and Pierson offer a depressing series of case studies to that end—for instance, food industry efforts to fight the Obama administration’s anti-obesity campaign and the rise of private schools, little better than diploma mills, whose outcomes are worse than those of public counterparts but whose owners still manage to receive ample federal funds. The costs of this private looting to the public are not merely economic; write the authors, “in undermining essential public authority, they threaten effective democratic governance itself.” They suggest reforms to curb the worst effects of the libertarian grab, including “rebuilding government capacity” and remaking Senate filibuster requirements so that the system is more “majoritarian.”
Provocative, especially in this election year, though unlikely to sway doctrinaire members of the reigning party.