Review: The Conservative Nanny State

Dean Baker. The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer (LULU, 2006)

It is a myth that the rich, or market conservatives in the author’s lexicon, unremittingly favor the operation of free markets with absolutely no government intervention. In fact, quite the opposite is the case. The author examines several key areas that show the lie of the idea that the rich favor free market outcomes. What they favor is governmental protection of their status and privileges. For example:

1. Both the gov. and professional organizations limit the numbers of doctors, lawyers, and other professionals, including the entry of foreigners. At the same time, rampant and/or illegal immigration floods lower-wage employment markets and some technical jobs. On the one hand, wages are artificially high, but suppressed on the other to the detriment of the greater good.

2. The Federal Reserve uses monetary policy to increase unemployment and thereby lower wages of the lesser skilled, while limiting the inflation detested by bankers.

3. Corporations are entirely government creations, yet conservatives obscure that point which permits unchecked CEO pay. In actuality the government could mandate governance rules that would likely curtail CEO pay excesses.

4. Copyright and patent laws in essence grant monopolies to the detriment of the free flow of goods and services, which can in fact be harmful as in the case of restricting the availability of needed medicines.

5. Conservatives support legislation to restrict the ability of individuals to seek redress in courts for harm under the name of tort reform. In actuality lawsuits are a market form of regulation in lieu of government intervention. Obviously, protecting the rich trumps market principles.

6. Free market advocates supposedly advocate choice. So why is there such fear on the part of private enterprise of people choosing Social Security and/or signing up with Medicare for both health care and prescription drugs? The fact is that private business is highly inefficient compared to those programs and can’t really compete. Therefore they look to government to limit choice.

7. True conservatives have always had low regard for gambling and certainly insist on its being heavily taxed. But when it comes to Wall Street speculation, which is what day-trading is all about, they turn a blind eye to taxing and thus limiting the undisputed harmful impact of speculative transactions.

There are a few more examples by the author, none of which can be seriously disputed. The book has the tone that things could be different: just point out the hypocrisy of the rich and reform will follow. Really?

The author can hardly be unaware that we live in a class society in which the major institutions with the task of inculcating the idea that markets are neutral and work for us all, namely educational and media institutions, are basically owned or financed by the rich. A few dissenting, fringe views are permitted here and there, but basically major dissent concerning the justness of our society is dealt with swiftly: removal or exclusion from school or job, or flagrant suppression.

The situation is more than just setting forth the facts before the public. Probably never before in our history has market ideology so permeated our society and given the rich so many effective tools to disseminate information favorable to their class interests. As far as any effective forces opposing this situation, can anyone honestly say that the Democrats at this point are willing or even want to reverse any of what the author points out any more than do the Republicans. The answer is “No.”

Credit: J. Grattan, “But don’t the rich deserve coddling by the government?” published with permission