To adapt Dickens to our current situation: It is the best of times, it is the worst of times. That is what Liam Halligan is telling us at UnHerd in [Theresa] Should Set Her Sights On Crony Capitalists. Liam says the Brexit is not the most important topic for the Tories. It is rebooting capitalism and part of that is fighting crony capitalism. We tend to agree.
We are only mildly supportive because we don’t like the term crony capitalism (CC) and Liam is really vague about how to fight it. CC is when the government alters the market to favor certain parties. A classic example is taxis. We see the cronyism but not the capitalism. The best way to fight CC is by reducing regulation. Liam is vague about what he wants yo do to fight CC and his only real suggestion seems to be more regulation for big entities:
Big companies across the Western world have become far too powerful. Our political, business and media elites are much too intertwined. Such cosy relationships have resulted in an enfeebled competition policy, which is further increasing the might of a small number of corporations, to the detriment of consumers, smaller firms and broader society. [Emphasis added]
We are not sure where Liam is going but if he really wants to fight the cronyism in CC then we are with him. On the other hand, more regulation will make these entities even more intertwined.
It is the best of times. Liam reminds us that capitalism has enriched everyone everywhere it has been applied:
Or that, since the late-80s fall of the Berlin Wall, the spread of capitalism has enriched billions – with the share of the global population in extreme poverty plunging from two-fifths in 1990 to under one tenth today.
It is the worst of times as socialism has been tried repeatedly and devastated wide areas of the globe:
No matter that the Soviet Union collapsed under the weight of its economic contradictions. [here is remembering the start of the terror]
Of course, Venezuela is a current example that socialism always fails. The talented and beautifully named Mary Anastasia O’Grady tells us a story of Why Central America Stays Poor in the WSJ. We are unsure if we disagree with Liam because he is so often vague about evidence and recommendations. We disagree in part with Mary but we are sure about it because she writes so clearly:
Nature can be cruel in underdeveloped countries. Yet it wasn’t fire, flood, mudslide or volcano that served this economic gut punch. This is a man-made travesty, courtesy of Guatemala’s Constitutional Court. It is a saga worth recounting because it goes to the heart of the country’s intransigent poverty.
Mary lays the problem at the feet of Guatemala’s Constitutional Court for their interpretation of a treaty:
[T]he United Nations International Labor Organization’s Convention No. 169 states that indigenous peoples living in the area of development projects need to be consulted. Guatemala is a signatory to the convention.
We think some of the blame should go to Guatemala for approving the treaty. Conservatives recognize the folly of vague treaties, laws, and regulations that sound good because they can come back to bite you just like they did for Guatemala. Even Progressives can become textualists when it benefits them.
To get back to Dickens is the worst of times because of public and media attitudes. Liam reports that:
A recent YouGov poll suggested around 60% of voters think the railways and Royal Mail should be renationalised. Over half want the water and energy companies back in public sector ownership. A ComRes survey earlier this year showed that young British adults now think capitalism is more dangerous than communism.
Liam seems to think we should accept such foolishness rather that try to educate folks. It is true that socialism doesn’t work but folks need reminding. The attitude towards communism is astounding and another reason for education.
It doesn’t help that the Labor party is headed by Jeremy Corbin. Liam describes Jeremy’s proposals:
And that’s [what we would call bad reporting] allowing [Jeremy] to present, with some success, his programme of aggressive renationalisation, sweeping trade union powers and highly punitive taxation as “the new common sense of our time”.
The next part of Dickens applies even more: It is an age of wisdom, it is an age of foolishness. The USSR, Venezuela, and Guatemala offer lessons for the UK. The first two remind us that socialism, government control of the economy, doesn’t work. Liam reminds us we need reminders. Guatemala reminds that treaties, laws, and regulations are written and need interpretation and application. Much of CC lies in the interpretation and application of such documents. Some is in the creation of such documents. If we mean to fight CC we should be at least judicious in the creation of such documents and recognized the need to revise them as necessary.
We’d like to say that it would be a far, far better thing than they had ever done before if the Tories really fought CC but the Tories saved Western Civilization from fascism under Churchill and saved the UK from another form of socialism under Thatcher. But it is still a really good idea and fighting CC will be a worthy challenge.