So, what’s all this about the primacy of the “market”? Elsewhere in the book (p. 48), Chait informs us that the economic policy of current conservatism is “nothing that a Friedrich Hayek or a Milton Friedman would recognize as his own.” And in a discussion of this conservatism’s “material self-interest” (pp. 76-79) — which is actually a listing of a few examples of corporate welfare under Bush 43 — he asks, “How, one might wonder, could anybody regard this great mass of government subsidies as a triumph of the free market?” Rhetorician, answer thyself.
The best we get is this: “The rise of the business lobby has distorted — and, finally, corrupted — the Republican Party…,” which is true — if we were talking about the Progressive Era. But regarding that period Chait rehearses a superstition that puts the flat-Earth faithful to shame: “[M]any of the reforms the Progressives set in place were met by fierce opposition from corporations. Yet eventually much of the business community accepted them … [including] reasonable regulation.” “This history,” he explains, “runs against the mythology … in which American business is seen as a constant, thoroughly evil, and near omnipotent force” (pp. 48-50).
Chait’s “history” has been exposed as mythology itself by the scholarly research of historian Gabriel Kolko, who documented how the Progressive regulatory agencies were “invariably controlled by leaders of the regulated industry, and directed toward ends they deemed acceptable or desirable … [mostly] because the regulatory movements were usually initiated by the dominant businesses to be regulated,” e.g., the Interstate Commerce Commission and the railroad industry. Kolko’s work was embraced by free-market economists from the conventional Friedman to the radical Murray Rothbard, who all stressed the same point: Big Business loves “business regulation” (especially the funded-by-taxpayers and crippling-to-smaller-competitors parts). Chait concedes that by the Johnson administration corporate support for regulation became obvious to all, but he characterizes the regulation as something corporations accepted altruistically because they sincerely believed it benefited the “country as a whole.” Yup, that’s what he writes. Only under George W. Bush has corporatism become the special-interest pursuit of privileges for connected businesses.