Citizens United – The Free Market Killer

Today I read a Reddit AMA featuring Jim Harper. Mr. Harper is an employee at American Enterprise Institute. AEI is a leading producer of, among other things, global warming doubt ‘studies’.

(AMA = “Ask Me Anything.”)

You can read the exchange on global warming, but the point of this post is to show you how the Citizen’s United Court Decision is a free market killer.

In 2010, the John Roberts supreme court ruled, essentially, that corporations such as Citizen’s United (a political messaging organization) are people and money is speech. In other words, a billionaire could legally give unlimited $ to the election campaigns of a few dozen senators, and then, subsequently (and wholly coincidentally (wink wink) ),  be confirmed as Secretary of some agency that oh, I don’t know, regulates the industry that made that billionaire those very same billions.  You can read more about the Citizen’s United ruling here.

Personally, I get it that unlimited contributions == corruption. It’s obvious, and it’s what I’ve been taught in my public/private education.   However, Mr. Harper punted on a specific question about Citizen’s United. In his stead, u/Scytle chimed in with an answer worth sharing.

Sometimes it’s good to be like Einstein and do a thought experiment to help the idea really hit home. Here’s u/Scythe’s:

Let's do a little mental experiment. Let's say you're a small mom and pop shop who developed, and now wants to sell your own product. You make a good product, it's sturdy, has good value, and performs its function well. So well, that you patent it, and start selling it.

It's doing well, local people are talking about it, and it looks like the market could deliver you huge returns if you were able to sell and advertise all over the nation. 

A large company that already makes a product like yours offers to buy it from you. But you took years to develop this product, and you think you have a winner so you politely decline.

When that large company realizes that you could be a future threat to their market share, they take a couple million dollars down to the senate and start spreading it around to a couple well chosen senators. Corporations are people my friend. Money is speech, and they have a huge mouth.

The next year a small rider in a budget bill seems oddly specific in banning just the kind of product you make. Heartbroken you go out of business, just when you were about to make it big.
That large company comes along and offers to buy that patent. But now, you are living paycheck to paycheck so you sell it to them for far less than they had offered before.

The large company doesn't even use your patent, they toss it in a vault and have their legal team use it to sue anyone who makes a product even close to the one you invented.

They continue making a far inferior product, their profit margin grows, the consumer is given less choice, and worse choices. Senators get wealthy and your mom and pop operation has to fire the 2 or 3 people it had working there. 

Meanwhile that large company off-shores a couple hundred jobs to a place with worse environmental regulations to save money, and uses the savings to give the CEO's bigger bonuses this year, the stock price goes up, they sell off a couple million shares and buy another yacht.

YAY Citizens united is great! Free market! Unregulated Capitalism!

Put simply: allowing people to give as much money as they want to those in power is a direct threat to our liberal democracy. Hello corporate kleptocracy!

Later in the AMA u/Scytle showed up again, this time in response to Mr. Harper’s comments on capitalism. He wrote, “My outfit, CEI, is one of the great advocates in the nation for capitalism and the benefits it produces. There’s a lot of validity to the basic point that any trade freely entered into makes both parties better off. In the aggregate, human wealth and flourishing is a product of billions of such interactions. I don’t really like the word “capitalism,” though, as it suggests that capital rules.”

u/scytle replied in a way that sums up my own unsettled thoughts on the rhetoric the GOP repeats over and over again regarding the free market, regulation and capitalism. To me, it sounds like they’re spinning a story to convince everyone to let corporations and a handful of hyper-rich families take over our government. Apparently I’m not alone. Here’s what u/scytle had to say:

Capital does're job (in a think tank creating propaganda for corporations) is a perfect example of how a large amount of capital can be used to destroy the "free" market and tilt it in one direction.

Also there is no such thing as a "free market". All markets are artificial, and regulated. I can't open a murder shop, and I can't dump a pile of nuclear waste in your back yard. All economic activity is either allowed or not allowed by government. Just because someone will pay for something doesn't mean it should be allowed.

Without government regulation the "free" market becomes survival of the richest. Slavery could be a logical endpoint to an unregulated marketplace.

Capitalism sprang forth from feudalism. Feudalism is not compatible with democracy, do you think un-checked (Laissez-faire) capitalism is compatible with democracy?

Capitalism kills millions of people every year, either because there is money to be made (high drug costs, private prisons, etc), or because saving their lives is not profitable (the plight of a Bangladeshi fisherman who is killed in a flood doesn't matter to the guy pumping methane into the air at his fracking operation).

This unregulated capitalism allows the very rich to run over the very poor so long as they have enough money to grease the wheels. Then they take their profits, and plow them back into legal political bribes so that the law is on their side.

Your "long march towards freedom" seems an awful lot like oligarchy to me.

Please rethink your support of the GOP. They were once the party of freedom and personal responsibility. With Citizen’s United, they’ve been co-opted by billionaires. I de-registered from the GOP in 2016. you can make this the year you do the same.

Oh, and instead of registering with the DNC, fight the privately funded two party system by calling your STATE reps and telling them to follow the initiative to get $ out of politics with a constitutional amendment.