Friday, April 01, 2011

Kick-Ass Kasich

Beaming John Kasich, the Kick-Ass Governor of the Buckeye State

 Kasich and Free Market Fundamentalism

     Free market fundamentalism is the  blind faith that only free (i.e., unregulated) markets, not the government,  can solve financial and social problems. That premise is the April Fool’s gold of free market fundamentalism. Government, as President Reagan memorably pronounced, “is not the solution to our problem, it is the problem.” But where would we have been in the Second World War, for example, without the government?  I know where Reagan was during the Second World War. He was in the military, but he stayed stateside and never saw action because he was nearsighted. Reagan did see action in the  Second World War, but only  in films made before and after the war. In 1941, in International Squadron, he played the American Jimmy Grant, flying with the RAF, as “the Yankee daredevil air-devil.” In the postwar  1957  B film Hellcats of the Navy, Reagan played the brave commander of a submarine operating in the dangerous waters off Japan. When he was not playing a hellcat, Reagan played the buckaroo in such films as  Cowboy from Brooklyn and Santa Fe Trail, and when he was not playing the buckaroo he was playing a bozo in such films as  Bedtime for Bonzo (1951). The movies Reagan were in earned him no accolades as an actor and negligible profits for his employers. So he turned to huckstering for General Electric and then to politics, where he struck pay dirt as a free market fundamentalist. Today, he is revered by right-wing Republicans. 
    As befits an icon of free market fundamentalism,  Reagan’s likeness may end up  on our money, along with George Washington, Ben Franklin, and Abraham Lincoln, or so some of his Republican admirers hope. They recently proposed that he should replace President  U.S. Grant on the 50 dollar bill, but that proposal  was shot down by offended Buckeyes who, while taking nothing away from the Gipper, would not allow him to displace Grant on the 50 dollar bill. After all,  Grant had served his country not only as president but as a daredevil  lieutenant in the Mexican American War and as a legendary general in the Civil War. Fortunately for the country and for the cause not of free markets but free people, Grant was not nearsighted. Free market fundamentalists serve the interests not of democracy and freedom, but of  reactionary and repressive plutocrats, such as the  billionaire brothers who are reputedly subsidizing the Tea Party movement.

The Almighty Dollar

In the hands of sanctimonious free market fundamentalists, Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand becomes the hand  of  God. In the Manichaean theology of free market fundamentalists, the government is evil and profit making enterprises  good, ipso facto. According to this devilish theology, if someone is making a profit, that is good; if someone is trying to regulate or reduce profits, that is bad.  The only exception to this rule, according to Nobel economist Friedrich Hayek, author of The Road to Serfdom, is if regulation promotes profits: then it is good. It is the Republicans, of course, and Tea Partiers in particular, who are strongest in their denunciation of regulations. What is good for business is good for the country is a deeply held conviction shared by many Republicans and some conservative Democrats. Instead of viewing the profit motive as a necessary evil, and the love of money as the root of all evil, as some of us think, the free market fundamentalists see the profit motive as manna from heaven. “Seest thou a man diligent in business, he shall stand before kings,” the bible says.  For the fundamentalist,   faith in profits is what made America the greatest country in the world.  In the words of another free market fundamentalist,  president Calvin Coolidge, “The business of America is business.”
“Free-market fundamentalists have been wrong about everything,” Paul Krugman, a different kind of  Nobel economist, wrote in the New York Times last December, “yet they now dominate the political scene more thoroughly than ever.” In view of the economic calamity they were instrumental in bringing about, it astonishes me that free market fundamentalists  never missed a beat.   Krugman calls the most recent version of free market fundamentalism “zombie economics” because the Great Recession, which should have killed it, hardly made a scratch. “Yes, politics is the art of the possible,” Krugman wrote. “We all understand the need to deal with one’s political enemies. But it’s one thing to make deals to advance your goals; it’s another to open the door to zombie ideas. When you do that, the zombies end up eating your brain—and quite possibly your economy too.

Kicking Ass in the Buckeye State

Since Republicans are  virtually in complete control of Ohio  politically, free market fundamentalism is alive and kicking ass in the Buckeye state. The recent passage by the Ohio legislature of SB5, curtailing the rights of public service employees,  is the most recent manifestation of its baleful influence. Since Ohio is in the grip not just of perennial Buckeye football fever but of  what could be called  “eyeing the buck fever,” an often heard slogan might serve as a new state  motto. Instead of “With God all things are possible,” the state slogan  might  be changed simply to, “GO BUCK$!” When he had a show on Fox News, where he sometimes sat in for Bill O’Falafel, Kasich claimed atheists and the ACLU were waging a war against Christmas.  A blogger on Plunderbund   pointed out that Christmas’s worst enemy is the free market, which has  so shamelessly  commercialized the religious holiday that it’s a travesty.  “When you get right down to it,” a blogger  wrote in “Jesus vs. the Free Market,” “the closest thing we have to an actual war on Christmas is the secularization of the holiday and these changes have almost exclusively come from private industry.” Given their druthers, free marketers will privatize everything. Nothing is sacred, including Christmas,  unless it’s for profit. Among other things, Kasich wants to privatize prisons, the turnpike, and the lottery. Even the conservative Buckeye Institute, a strong advocate of privatization,  balked at the extent of Kasich’s ambitious privatization plans. The Institute urged Kasich, according to a blogger on  Plunderbund  not to rush headlong into privatizing Ohio’s assets when capital markets are weak.  Ohio taxpayers have made billion dollar investments in those assets and deserve to see a strong return on their investments. If the devil is involved anywhere in this, it’s in the details of free market fundamentalism, in the belief that regulation is evil and profits are good, no matter what price the public has to pay.

Bedtime for Bozo

Free market fundamentalism is the twentieth century update of nineteenth century social Darwinism. The survival of the fittest becomes the survival of the wealthiest.  What does it profit a free market fundamentalist to gain the Buckeye state and lose his soul? It is time to take the buck out of Buckeye. It is time to stop worshipping the Almighty Dollar. It is time for the Invisible Hand to release its stranglehold  on government. Where does it get us anyway? The deficits and the size of government grew larger and faster under President Reagan than under his predecessor President Carter. The deficits already appear to be growing faster under Governor Kasich than they were under his predecessor Governor Strickland. After carefully analyzing Kasich’s budget, the Buckeye Institute concluded that the Republican governor, fresh from making a killing on Wall Street,  is not lowering the cost of government, he is raising it. Just today, April 1,  Ralph Nader released a statement criticizing Kasich for not cutting corporate welfare in Ohio. Kasich had attempted to flatter Nader in his State of the State address, but Nader was not appeased.  “I've been reading about how the legislature and you have been pounding the public employee unions but not going after corporate welfare kings with the same focus and intensity,” Nader wrote. Tea Partiers will never believe it, but the liberal Democrat  Strickland, according to the Buckeye Institute,  was a  more responsible budgeter than his Republican successor. Kasich, like Reagan, appears to be more  pussycat than hellcat, more buck passer than  buckaroo, more summer soldier than lion of winter, more amiable dunderhead than thundering thunderhead, who, while kicking workers’ asses, is only too willing to play patsy for the plutocrats. His plummeting poll numbers among Buckeye voters suggest that bedtime for bozo may come much sooner than anyone imagined.


The Ohio Statehouse: A tabernacle of free market fundamentalism?