A Capitalism for the People: Recapturing the Lost Genius of American Prosperity (Anglais) Relié – 21 juin 2012
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Many blame "capitalism" for the financial crisis. Zingales argues and demonstrates that there is an enormous difference between "capitalism" and "the capitalists", and between "pro-market" and "pro-business" choices and policies. It is the capitalists and pro-business policies that are to blame, not capitalism. Pro-business choices have favored the incumbents (rich people). As a result, outsiders (ordinary people) have seen their opportunities reduced, their shot at the American dream denied. The book argues that we need to put a stop to the cozy relationship between politicians, Wall Street and big business. Zingales demonstrates (with logic and plenty of examples) that we need pro-market policies that foster competition and meritocracy, and which ultimately benefit ordinary people.
This is a great book. I strongly recommend it to anyone who cares about the future of America, from supporters of (true) capitalism to Occupy Wall Streeters.
Suppose you also learned that Robert Rubin, then the Secretary of Treasury under President Bill Clinton, was lobbying for changes to the Act that would remove the restrictions on banks. (Such a bill passed in 1999 with a bipartisan majority of 343-86.)
You still might not find that too outrageous. There were, after all, reasonable arguments against the Glass-Steagall restrictions and even today there is controversy over their advantages and disadvantages.
But finally you learn that Rubin left his post at the Treasury Department exactly one day after the bill passed (he had actually resigned 6 weeks before) and just 108 days later he was hired by Citigroup (yes, the firm he had helped through his lobbying efforts to change Glass-Steagall) for a salary of $15 million a year and, as author Luigi Zingales points out, "without any operating responsibilities."
It was not, as Zingales points out, illegal. But was it right?
Consider it Exhibit A in the case Zingales makes against "crony capitalism," the unholy alliance of business and government. "Business" may be commonly perceived to be in the camp of the Republicans but, as Zingales shows, crony capitalism is perhaps the most successful ongoing bipartisan effort since the fabrication of the first pork barrel.
That is how we end up with Dwayne Andreas, once the CEO of food and commodities giant Archer Daniels Midland, buying Jimmy Carter's peanut warehouse and, a few years later, selling Bob Dole an apartment in Bal Harbor, Florida. (Andreas' Wikipedia page reports that he is "one of the most prominent political campaign donors in the United States, having contributed millions of dollars to Democratic and Republican candidates alike.")
Similar examples abound in Zingales' systematic documentation of how the US economy has gone from "pro-market" capitalism to "pro-business" cronyism. Our overly large federal government has spawned an explosion of lobbying, influence peddling and corruption. Zingales astutely points out that the "Occupy" and the "Tea Party" movements are actually aligned against the same opponent. The Occupiers may focus their wrath on business and the Tea Party on government, but to Zingales they are two sides of the same coin.
Zingales, a professor of Finance at the University of Chicago, is particularly sensitive about crony capitalism. He immigrated to the United States from Italy specifically to escape the corruption of the Italian system, in which getting ahead was a function of who you know and not what you know. Corruption is the norm. In an amusing but telling example Zingales says that if a mayor in Italy advised the citizens to tape their windows, as an American mayor did in advance of stormy weather, Zingales would have ignored the advice, assuming the mayor's brother was selling tape.
Zingales is a capitalist, a believer in the free market. In his view, however, many of the elements which enabled the free market to create so much wealth while generating so little resentment in the United States are shifting unfavorably. He highlights the undermining of support for the free-market system driven by increases in inequality for reasons other than meritocracy. As Zingales says, "the perception...that the system is rigged."
One manifestation of this "rigging" is the bailouts. Zingales devotes a chapter to detailing how the increasing involvement of the government in the economy, through spending and regulation, and the increasing coziness of government with the businesses it was ostensibly regulating, led almost naturally to the use of taxpayer money to bail out financial institutions in crisis. (And not just financial institutions, as evidenced by the multiple bailouts of the auto industry.) All of which is harmful both to popular support for what is called "the free market" as well as to the operation of the market itself.
Zingales is at his best documenting how we have gone astray. The book is filled with examples and anecdotes and supplemented by Zingales' insight as an economist, explaining exactly how these developments are harmful.
He provides several recommendations, which make up about half of the book. His proposals are a mix of traditional solutions, such as school vouchers to improve education and improvements in bankruptcy laws to restore the balance between borrowers and lenders, and some creative ideas such as "retooling vouchers" to reward schools based on their success in actually finding new jobs for the unemployed workers they train. He has a host of proposals designed to "promote" competition (such as "reinventing" antitrust to focus not on market power but on political power).
As a member of academia, Zingales believes business ethics should be featured more prominently in business schools. He would like to see opprobrium become the social norm for unethical business behavior as opposed to the current culture of turning a blind eye or even rewarding it.
Finally, Zingales desperately wants to reduce the influence of lobbying on the political and economic landscape. While he makes a convincing case that lobbying should be curtailed, his proposals do not inspire confidence. He calls for "public shaming" of companies which abuse lobbying. He believes in an increase in the use of class-action lawsuits. The reality is that as long as government remains large and intrusive, lobbying will be a problem. Reducing the size of government, and therefore reducing the rewards from lobbying, may be the best hope.
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