Tuesday, April 01, 2008

An Antidote to Overdosing On Ultra-Anarchistic Nostrums

I came across this article on a Wikipedia site with which I broadly agree (read it all and guess which parts I don’t agree with!) and its worth reading (here).

“THE BETRAYAL OF ADAM SMITH(Excerpt from ‘When Corporations Rule the World”), 2nd ed. (12 May 2001) by David Korten

It is ironic that corporate libertarians regularly pay homage to Adam Smith as their intellectual patron saint, since it is obvious to even the most casual reader of his epic work The Wealth of Nations that Smith would have vigorously opposed most of their claims and policy positions. For example, corporate libertarians fervently oppose any restraint on corporate size or power. Smith, on the other hand, opposed any form of economic concentration on the ground that it distorts the market's natural ability to establish a price that provides a fair return on land, labor, and capital; to produce a satisfactory outcome for both buyers and sellers; and to optimally allocate society's resources.

Through trade agreements, corporate libertarians press governments to provide absolute protection for the intellectual property rights of corporations. Smith was strongly opposed to trade secrets as contrary to market principles and would have vigorously opposed governments enforcing a person or corporation's claim to the right to monopolize a lifesaving drug or device and to charge whatever the market would bear.

Corporate libertarians maintain that the market turns unrestrained greed into socially optimal outcomes. Smith would be outraged by those who attribute this idea to him. He was talking about small farmers and artisans trying to get the best price for their products to provide for themselves and their families. That is self-interest, not greed. Greed is a high-paid corporate executive firing 10,000 employees and then rewarding himself with a multimillion-dollar bonus for having saved the company so much money. Greed is what the economic system being constructed by the corporate libertarians encourages and rewards.

Smith strongly disliked both governments and corporations. He viewed government primarily as an instrument for extracting taxes to subsidize elites and intervening in the market to protect corporate monopolies. In his words, "Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all. Smith never suggested that government should not intervene to set and enforce minimum social, health, worker safety, and environmental standards in the common interest or to protect the poor and nature from the rich. Given that most governments of his day were monarchies, the possibility probably never occurred to him.

The theory of market economics, in contrast to free-market ideology, specifies a number of basic conditions needed for a market to set prices efficiently in the public interest. The greater the deviation from these conditions, the less socially efficient the market system becomes. Most basic is the condition that markets must be competitive. I recall the professor in my elementary economics course using the example of small wheat farmers selling to small grain millers to illustrate the idea of perfect market competition. Today, four companies--Conagra, ADM Milling, Cargill, and Pillsbury--mill nearly 60 percent of all flour produced in the United States, and two of them--Conagra and Cargill--control 50 percent of grain exports.

In the real world of unregulated markets, successful players get larger and, in many instances, use the resulting economic power to drive or buy out weaker players to gain control of even larger shares of the market. In other instances, "competitors" collude through cartels or strategic alliances to increase profits by setting market prices above the level of optimal efficiency. The larger and more collusive individual market players become, the more difficult it is for newcomers and small independent firms to survive, the more monopolisitic and less competitive the market becomes, and the more political power the biggest firms can wield to demand concessions from governments that allow them to externalize even more of their costs to the community.
[Plus much more in the extract]...

You can (should) read the rest HERE.

It’s well worth doing so, even if you are opposed to its interpretation of what it is criticising. It is an antidote to the too ready avowal of certain ultra-free market exponents, who while they are perfectly entitled to their views (and which I prefer to those Statist types who advocated extensive government controls of the economy, social norms and individual choices), I do object to their aligning Adam Smith, without qualification, with their nostrums.


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