Protecting the free market from … us?

Published 10:21 am Tuesday, September 22, 2009

You have to admire great marketing even when its target is to misdirect. Consider the case of the “pet rock.” Hardly anything could be less lovable than a cold stone unless it is the lump of coal once promised in your Christmas stocking. But with good marketing the Pet Rock had its day in the sun.

The most current marketing miracle though puts the Pet Rock to shame, for marketing the need to protect the “Free Market” from the evils of non-profits is a freckles tactic on the heels of the recent failures of that very same free market.

The free market only last year handed us the collapse of the U.S. banking system and the near collapse of the international financial system. And saving the free market from itself costs the public trillions of dollars in bailouts.

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Better yet, after saving the big banks they returned the favor by higher interest rates, lower credit limits, refusal to approve qualified loans and abuse of re-financing policies to save homeowners who paid their mortgages on time.

And if all of that was fine with you the big banks continue the very same practices, gambling on bad loans, that brought about the collapse. And, in case you did not notice the salt on hand for your financial wounds, the bankers continue to pay themselves obscene bonuses for risking the nation over and over again while taking their profit first.

Felling like protecting the free market still? Then consider the collapse of the American auto manufacturing system. Without government intervention the U.S. would be almost out of the vehicle manufacturing business today.

That would have cost the nation literally millions of jobs, both direct and indirect to the system, and slowed our economic recovery as much as a decade. But their collapse would also have put our national security at risk.

In times of war the ability to manufacture is crucial to survival and success. The free market failed and the people bailed it out.

OK, for those who still worry about protecting the free market, consider your likely largest two investments, your home and your stock market connection to retirement.

Is your home worth more or less than it was 18 months ago? Is your 401K more or less valuable than it once was? Credit the excesses of the free market for both losses.

In realty, lenders granted loans they never should have approved, bought off appraisers, and sold the bad loans within days to the rest of the world. In the stock market, well you know that story if you know the story of the big banks.

Now comes the chance to fix the excesses of the free market in health care. A free market that, with profit as a single motive, can only make money two ways; first, by denying care while collecting premiums; second, by signing up many new insurees. Well the stories of denying care are both legend and true, and why should that surprise anyone.

The second path to profit, signing up new people, is their hope from the current reform effort. Send them all to for profit companies and watch them turn down more claims and make more profit. What a wonderful venture.

So, we can once again protect the poor free market at our own expense in every sense of the word, or we can opt for a non-profit public option to control those same excesses that run entirely counter to our best interests.

If protecting the free market matters, then we the people can count on protecting the free market … from our own best interests.

Jim Crawford is a contributing columnist for The Tribune and a former educator at Ohio University Southern.