The most dangerous enemies of capitalism today are capitalists. This is becoming clearer every day to people committed to free markets.
The conservative and libertarian grassroots came to deeply distrust big business after the Wall Street bailouts and Obama's stimulus and health care bills, both of which had big-business backing. Tea Party ire focused on subsidy-suckling businesses as much as at big-spending politicians.
Beltway conservatives have also joined in the fight against corporatism. Last spring, the Club for Growth, FreedomWorks and the lobbying arm of the Heritage Foundation all lined up against the Chamber of Commerce and pressed GOP congressmen to vote to kill the Export-Import Bank, which nonetheless was reauthorized by an overwhelming margin.
Republican politicians, despite being lobbied hard by their big-business donors and K Street advisers, are nevertheless moving slowly away from corporate welfare and toward free-market populism. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan wrote an op-ed in Forbes in 2009 titled "Down with Big Business" (a headline he borrowed from a 1979 Wall Street Journal op-ed).
And now academia's free-market players are getting in on the game, beginning to rebuild the intellectual infrastructure to argue against corporatism. George Mason University's Mercatus Center this week is kicking off a series of papers on cronyism and business-government collusion.
"The Pathology of Privilege: The Economic Consequences of Government Favoritism," written by Mercatus senior research fellow Matt Mitchell, is the first installment.
"Privilege" is good word to encompass all the unfair advantages government can give favored businesses. Mitchell's paper, drawing on the scholarly work of Milton Friedman, James Buchanan, Gordon Tullock, Joseph Schumpeter, Mancur Olson, George Stigler, Luigi Zingales and many others, outlines various types of privilege and lays out the evidence that these policies hurt the economy while benefiting the privileged.
Politically favored businesses of course benefit from direct subsidies (think agribusiness) and government loan guarantees (think Solyndra and Boeing), but Mitchell makes the important point that regulation itself creates a privileged class.
Regulation often acts directly or indirectly as a barrier to entry. The conservative and libertarian media have documented this anecdotally -- Philip Morris supported and is benefiting from Obama's tobacco regulation, for instance, because the rules allow it to lock in its dominant market share. Mitchell assembles scholarly work broadly showing regulation's anti-competitive and pro-big-business effects.