Corporatists vs. Capitalists

11/16/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

When I heard the word "corporatist" a couple of years ago, I laughed. I thought what a funny, made up, liberal word. I fancy myself a die-hard capitalist, so it seemed vaguely anti-business, so I was put off by it.

Well, as it turns out, it's a great word. It perfectly describes a great majority of our politicians and the infrastructure set up to support the current corporations in the country. It is not just inaccurate to call these people and these corporations capitalists; it is in fact the exact opposite of what they are.

Capitalists believe in choice, free markets and competition. Corporatists believe in the opposite. They don't want any competition at all. They want to eliminate the competition using their power, their entrenched position and usually the politicians they've purchased. They want to capture the system and use it only for their benefit.

I don't blame them. They're trying to make a buck. And it's a hell of a lot easier making money when you don't have competition or truly free markets or consumer choice. All of these corporations would absolutely love it if they were the only choice a consumer had.

Blaming the corporations for this is a little silly. It's like blaming a man for breathing or a scorpion for stinging. That's what they do. In fact, they are legally bound to make their best effort at not just crushing the competition, but eliminating it. Lack of competition will lead to making more money (presumably for their shareholders; though realistically it winds up being for their executives these days).

As the saying goes, "Don't hate the player, hate the game." We have to understand how this system works and then account for the abuses that are likely to arise out of it. I don't hate the scorpion for stinging but I also wouldn't put a bunch of them in my bed. And I wouldn't take kindly to someone else putting them there, either.

Politicians are very cheap to buy (and senators from smaller states are even easier to buy - great bang for your buck). So, obviously corporations are going to look to buy them so they can pass laws to kill off their competition. If you don't understand this, you're being at least a little bit dense.

You should lose significant credibility as a journalist if you're naïve enough to believe that corporations would not do this out of the goodness of their hearts. Come on, can anyone really believe that? Yet, in today's media atmosphere, saying politicians are in the back pocket of the corporate lobbyists who raise the most money for them is seen as an unacceptable comment. Anyone who challenges the system is portrayed as an outsider, fringe element who must be treated with scorn and shunned. We are told in earnest tones we must trust the corporations and not question the motives of the politicians.

The sensible approach would be to recognize the problem and figure out a way to avoid it the best we can. Money always finds a way in, but we can at least be cognizant of the issue and try to combat it as much as possible. We must do this as citizens who care about our democracy, but we must also do it as capitalists.

I believe in the capitalist system. I think it makes sense and it is attuned to human nature. People do not work to the best of their ability and take only as much as they need. They work as little as humanly possible and take as much as humanly possible. Capitalism helps to funnel these natural impulses in a positive, hopefully productive manner.

But in order to have capitalism we must have choice. If consumers do not have different companies to choose from, if the markets aren't truly free and there is no real competition, then you kill capitalism. Corporations are a natural byproduct of capitalism, but as soon as they are born they want to destroy their parent. Corporations are the Oedipus of the capitalist system.

In order for capitalism to work, they must not be allowed to succeed. We must guard capitalism jealously.

So, it is of the utmost importance that we watch politicians with a very wary eye. Campaign contributions are a tiny expense to a large corporation. And the politicians treasure them too much. It is an easy sale. So, beware of politicians receiving gifts.

The perfect example of this is the health care reform debate going on now. And perhaps there is no better example of a politician who works for his corporate overlords than Max Baucus, who has received nearly three million dollars from the health care industry.

I don't blame the health care companies. I would do the same thing in their position. In fact, it is their fiduciary responsibility to buy an important (and cheap) senator like Max Baucus (he's cheap because he comes from the small state of Montana, where it is far less expensive to buy ads and crush your political competition with money they cannot possibly match).

If the health care companies can eliminate their competition, they'll make a lot more money. That is why there is so little competition among corporations in so many parts of the country now and why they are desperate to avoid the public option. They'd have to be stupid and negligent not to buy Max Baucus. He is the head of the Finance Committee and in charge of writing the most touted and awaited version of the health care bill.

I don't blame them, I blame us. How stupid and negligent are we to let that guy write this bill? The media should be treating Baucus and many of the other senators (who all get millions from the health care industry) with enormous skepticism. Instead, they are treating them as if they are honest actors who would never be affected by all that money.

They treat their concerns as if they are legitimate issues. The Republicans and the corporatist Democrats pretend to be fiscal conservatives who care about the budget when they are trying to kill the most important cost constraint in the whole bill - the public option. If you're a budget hawk, that's the last thing you'd kill, not the first. That's what keeps our costs down.

You see, these politicians betrayed their real motives in this debate. They made it crystal clear that they are not, in fact, conservatives or moderates or centrists or even capitalists. They are corporatists. They look out for the interests of the corporations that pay them above all else. Capitalists believe in competition. They believe it lowers costs and gives consumers better choices.

So, I would ask the media to please stop calling these politicians conservatives or even capitalists. And could you please look out for the rather obvious fact that they might not be working for us but for the people who pay them?

Of course, the media outlets might be able to better recognize this if large corporations didn't also own them. But that probably wouldn't affect their judgment either, would it?