Fish gotta swim and George Will gotta lie

Part of the mindset of ideologues of the right is their absolute disdain for government regulation of private corporations. They want none of it.

An example of this was on display in a recent Washington Post column by George Will, who is also a regular on ABC’s “This Week” and a dean of the conservative movement.

Quoting the right-wing Hudson Institute’s Charles DeMuth, Will writes that regulations are pursued to the point where they are “costly beyond any plausible measure of their benefits.”

He goes on to say, again quoting DeMuth, that regulatory power easily becomes “arbitrary and capricious.” It turns democratic governance over to the “Administrative State” – a state obviously not to Will’s liking now that Barack Obama sits in the White House and Obama appointees run government agencies which regulate corporate practices much too much for Will’s liking.

Indeed, government regulators are out of control in Will’s view. “Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly and regulators, too, have a metabolic urge to do what they were created to do,” he says scornfully.

I find this rant against governmental regulatory power bizarre, though not surprising. Will, not to mention his right-wing counterparts, has a lot of – I’ll be polite – nerve to complain about regulatory overreach.

After all, the regulatory structure that grew out of the New Deal and the Great Society has been systematically dismantled over the past three decades, thanks to the ascendancy of the right wing and the rise of neoliberalism. The problem at this juncture is not too many regulations, as Will suggests, but too few.

But even a torn and tattered regulatory state is too much for Will to stomach; he won’t be happy until every last regulation that limits corporate profit-seeking behavior is eliminated.

So what if a regulatory-free environment results in miners dying in unsafe mines. Or oceans, lakes and rivers turning into polluted sinks. Or carbon building up in the atmosphere to the point where humanitys future is threatened. Or businesses discriminating against people of color, women, the disabled, and gays and lesbians. Or dangerous additives entering the food chain. Or financial markets and the broader economy going belly up, and in turn throwing tens of millions out of their jobs and homes.

Apparently, none of this is on Will’s radar screen.

How do we explain this seeming indifference to the human and ecological costs of unregulated capitalism?

Will and his counterparts on the right have been captured by “market fundamentalism” – a belief that capitalist markets when free and competitive provide optimal solutions to both economic and social problems. In their view, capitalism, if not burdened by regulations, generates jobs for a growing workforce, lifts up living standards of working people, and operates at full or near-full productive capacity.

But this is a fairy tale, peddled as an unassailable scientific truth.

First of all, capitalist markets are neither free nor competitive, but rather are dominated by a few giant corporations in nearly every line of production. There are many small producers, but they don’t control the capitalist economy and decision-making process. It is the mammoth transnational corporations who structure the markets and politics to their own class advantage – often at the expense of small producers along with the working class.

Second, an unregulated capitalism (or a regulated one for that matter) by no stretch of the imagination provides jobs for all or nearly all. The situation at this moment and in the foreseeable future is just the opposite. Much the same could be said about incomes of working people, that is, unregulated capitalism brings, not a tide lifting all boats, but instead wage stagnation or decline, and massive and growing income inequality between the 99 percent and the 1 percent.

Third, notwithstanding all the prattle of right-wing pundits about the “magic of the market,” capitalism in its deregulated and regulated forms – as John Maynard Keynes and Karl Marx argued – has no inherent tendency toward full employment and full utilization of society’s productive resources. In fact, stagnation is a more likely prognosis for contemporary capitalism than buoyant and steady growth.

It is hard to believe that Will doesn’t know all this. The economic depression of recent years that has no end in sight should be enough to cast doubt on the efficacy of free, competitive, and unregulated markets. But he reveals that his views are shaped more by the needs of an exploiting class and the corrupting influence of access to power and privilege than by the painful lessons of reality.

In the short run that may serve Will and the class that he represents well. In the longer run it will be their Waterloo.

Photo: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0



Sam Webb
Sam Webb

Sam Webb is a long-time writer living in New York. Earlier, he was active in the labor movement in his home state of Maine.