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Monday, December 19, 2011

The Church of the 'Free Market'

Jeb Bush has released a religious tract. It's disguised as an op-ed on economics in the Wall Street Journal, but it's a religious tract.

Congressman Paul Ryan recently coined a smart phrase to describe the core concept of economic freedom: "The right to rise."

Think about it. We talk about the right to free speech, the right to bear arms, the right to assembly. The right to rise doesn't seem like something we should have to protect.

But we do. We have to make it easier for people to do the things that allow them to rise. We have to let them compete. We need to let people fight for business. We need to let people take risks. We need to let people fail. We need to let people suffer the consequences of bad decisions. And we need to let people enjoy the fruits of good decisions, even good luck.

In what way is this a religious tract? Because the argument is backed up only by the strength of Bush's belief. It's a nearly fact-free piece -- the only number he brings up is the population of the United States. He proves nothing, his conclusions are apparently drawn from thin air, his arguments are tired.


Bush makes the case for unregulated capitalism or, as it's dishonestly known among conservatives, the "free market." A market that allows for monopolism and strangles competition can't honestly be described as "free," but Jeb -- like the rest of his party -- is bent on confusing market anarchy and freedom.

The problem, as Bush puts it, is that every time there's some problem, government thinks it's their job to fix it. This is apparently a terrible thing.

"Increasingly, we have let our elected officials abridge our own economic freedoms through the annual passage of thousands of laws and their associated regulations," he writes. "We see human tragedy and we demand a regulation to prevent it. We see a criminal fraud and we demand more laws. We see an industry dying and we demand it be saved. Each time, we demand 'Do something . . . anything.'"

Yes, it's a terrible thing for government to work to prevent future "human tragedies." Three Mile Island, Love Canal, and asbestos in schools should've just been bumps in the road. Instead, the government went ahead and tried to prevent similar future incidents, which is a terrible, terrible abridgement of freedom.

Why is it an abridgment of freedom? I have to confess, you've got me there. Because Jeb Bush says so, I guess. As I said, he doesn't actually cite any facts or figures, so we just have to make a leap of faith with him. We need the "freedom to rise," which is somehow protected by a regulatory and tax structure that's responsible for income inequality that's been growing since Reagan started the ball rolling back in the eighties. It's weird, but looking at that chart, I'm seeing the "right to rise" being enjoyed by the top 5%, and 95% of Americans falling -- and only the top 1% actually rising dramatically.

But there I go citing facts. Facts have no place in a religious conversation and Jeb Bush is definitely preaching the Free Market Gospel.

"[W]e can return to the road we once knew and which has served us well," he writes, "a road where individuals acting freely and with little restraint are able to pursue fortune and prosperity as they see fit, a road where the government's role is not to shape the marketplace but to help prepare its citizens to prosper from it."

When was that exactly? Looking back, I see a nation that's always regulated business -- even back to its founding. When was this free market golden age? Then again, I keep forgetting that this is a religious argument. Bush's Golden Era of Unregulated Capitalism is a myth -- a myth that stands at the core of the Republican Party. There's a yearning for a time than never actually existed on the right, when hard work paid off and made you wealthy, instead of trapped within the class you were born into. Sure, there have been a few people who've managed to rise out of humble births and become fabulously wealthy, but they're so few that they're the exceptions that prove the rule. The stories of success are the ones that get told. The millions upon millions upon millions of stories of people spinning their wheels and getting nowhere are almost never told -- the ordinary is uninteresting.

America will be a lot better off if we ignore the fundamentalists ramblings of religious zealots like Jeb Bush. We have separation of church and state, maybe it's time to consider a separation of church and market.


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