There is no truth to the rumor that UK banking chief
Mervyn King is the result of a merger between
two American companies.
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All of this might lead one to ask: What happened to free enterprise? The professed capitalist ideal is a system in which companies compete to provide the best goods and services at the best price, and those that fail perish, which in principle assures the best outcome for consumers and the success of meritorious business models. Unfortunately, there has been little of this. In reality, corporations have collaborated to seize control by using the media they own to help elect governments that will do their bidding; in place of competition, there is collusion; in place of healthy failures of the corrupt and inefficient, there are bailouts that leave those responsible richer than ever — and with still more power to wield over a government already in their thrall.
But those who heed economic history already know the answer: There never really was such a thing. Free enterprise is an ideal, like the “workers’ paradise” to which communism has paid homage but has never achieved, that has little in common with reality. Thus, like communism, capitalism is a system that “looks good on paper” and makes excellent fodder for political rhetoric; but what it really yields is another matter.
Just as communist revolutions have typically degenerated into crypto-aristocratic nightmares of bureaucratic despotism headed by psychopaths whose oratory of equality is belied by the actual treatment of the powerless under their dominion, so capitalism has always decayed into kleptoplutocracies under the dominion of corporations headed by psychopaths whose rhetoric of liberty is belied by their zeal for gain at the expense of their peoples’ freedom to thrive.
It is, however, fair to ask if this need be so.
I envision the eventual appearance — perhaps sooner now than I had formerly thought — of a global mixed economy. Those services on which life in our times depends (among them water, sanitation, telephone, internet, electricity, medical care, energy, insurance and banking) will belong to the public and be administered to serve it and not for profit. Other industries will remain in private hands, but not necessarily in the hands of corporations, which will find themselves curtailed, scrutinized, taxed and re-chartered with a more ethical essential mission than their present one — which is simply to make as much money as possible.
There will be a renaissance in entrepreneurship: Individuals or small groups, often starting their operations on the internet and sometimes transferring their respective industries wholly to that vector, will start countless small businesses, each of which will observe new tenets — starting perhaps with the ethical principle, “If you wouldn’t buy it, don't sell it” — and succeed or fail on merit.
All of this will demand a high price of us: perpetual vigilance. Never again can we permit our countries to be hijacked by amoral corporate entities that allow companies to legislate for their own benefit; never again can we permit regulatory agencies to be eviscerated and captured by the industries they were created to oversee; never again can we trust that anodyne of the 1980s: the “public-private partnership.”
But if we can manage all of this, we may one day know the felicity of enterprise that is genuinely free. It all begins with mobilizing public anger — which is far greater than Mervyn King may think — and doing as the Egyptians have done.