David Brooks says Obama's attacks on Romney's business record are "about capitalism." That's like saying an arrest for vehicular homicide is "about driving."
Our economic "roads" are jammed with destructive drivers like Romney. They're menacing motorists with their massive semis and monster dumptrucks while the traffic laws go unenforced. And whenever there's a lethal pileup their friends say it proves we shouldn't have traffic laws at all.
Brooks says that the President's campaign rhetoric "challenges the entire logic of capitalism as it has existed over several decades." That sounds like a subliminal suggestion from the liberals' favorite conservative that Barack Obama's a socialist. But if there's anything that needs to be challenged at this point in history it's "the entire logic of capitalism as it has existed over several decades."
This decades-long wave of unchecked corporate greed was brought about by deregulation, along with other symptoms of a corrupting collusion between corporate and political leaders. That unholy marriage has been made manifest in the very being of Mitt Romney.
Brooks conflates the economic rampage this process has created with capitalism itself - or, in a phrase he uses no less than three times in an 800-word piece, "modern capitalism." Those two words embrace behaviors that include both Wall Street lawlessness and the government largesse that inflates the wealth of people like Mitt Romney, whose firm's first success was made possible by a Massachusetts tax deal and whose personal fortune has been padded by undeserved loopholes.
Today's big-corporate czars are the worst case studies in unchecked greed since the Robber Barons. You'll need a phrase like "Modern Capitalism" if you're trying to defend their misdeeds. The words resonate with entrepreneurial spirit, which the American public loves. And who could be against the "modern" except a Luddite or a fool?
(Or a socialist, of course.)
Today's big-money CEOs aren't really "capitalist." The popular American notion of "capitalism" fits Merriam-Webster's definition: "An economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market."
But that's not how it works anymore. Wall Street has deceived and defrauded courts, homeowners, account holders, shareholders, government agencies and investors on an epic scale. Market choices -- which bank to use, whether to invest in big-bank shares or purchase mortgage-backed securities -- aren't "determined by private decision" at all. They're driven by long-standing patterns of fraud and deception.
Our largest corporations survive and thrive because of government patronage, not market forces. That's especially true of the too-big-to-fail banks which the government rescued after the crisis, and which it continues to prop up with cheap Federal Reserve money, lax regulation of civil and criminal laws, and the moral hazard that comes with the implicit guarantee of future bailouts.
The LIBOR scandal reminds us that prices are often determined, not by "competition in the free market," but by price-fixing, investor fraud, and market manipulation by a very small group of "too big to fail" players.
David Brooks' conception of "modern capitalism" should repel most Americans, and according to polling data it does. Conservatives should be as outraged as anyone -- maybe more so, since it flies in the face of everything they claim to hold dear: transparency, integrity, freedom from government control, and an economy guided by "the wisdom of the markets."
In other words, what David Brooks calls "modern capitalism" isn't capitalism at all.
It's not modern, either. The government/big business cronyism Brooks defends is as ancient as the Roman and Athenian politicians who gave bribes for personal profit. It's as old as the Union Pacific/Crédit Mobilier scandal of 1872. It's as stale as J. Pierpont Morgan responding to charges of illegal restraint of trade by asking Teddy Roosevelt, "Why don't you just send your man to my man and we'll fix it up?" It's as antiquated as bank magnate Andrew Mellon, who as Hoover's Treasury Secretary articulated the credo which corporate predators re-state whenever they've caused economic disaster:
"Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real estate ..."
Brooks hits closer to home when he points out that, contrary to campaign rhetoric, Obama has employed or been friendly with some dubious "Modern Capitalists." He's right to say the President hasn't acted against globalization. He even missed the chance to knock Obama for supporting additional free trade agreements. The President should do a better job of matching his actions to his rhetoric.
Then there's Mitt. Seems like everybody's got some advice for him nowadays: Release your taxes. Don't release your taxes. Focus on Obama. Focus on the future. Don't focus at all. There's only one piece of advice Romney hasn't been given: Be yourself.
Think about that.
But out of all the unsolicited suggestions coming Mitt's way, none can be worse that the one offered by David Brooks. "Romney is going to have to define a vision of modern capitalism," Brooks writes. Define a vision of modern capitalism?
That's Romney's biggest problem: He already has.