It’s time, says Robert Reich, to drop a Top Hat on the corruption spewed by the market:
In the words of lobbyist Lauren Maddox, “The policy process is an extension of the market battlefield.”
The answer is not necessarily found in broader or stricter “ethics rules” barring specific gifts to politicians. Such rules may have little effect and will not, on their own, restore public trust. Instead, we need to consider how to prevent high-stakes market competition from intruding on political decision-making, to create what might be considered “safe zones” where the market has no influence.
I don’t have a problem with the changes Reich wants to make — public financing, slowing down the revolving door between public service jobs and corporate jobs, etc. But wishing for “safe zones” makes about as much sense as wishing for unicorns (or safe zones patrolled by unicorns).
Take the last healthcare fight. Reich writes:
Doctors squabbled over whether primary-care physicians would get a Medicaid payment boost or a somewhat smaller boost would go to all doctors. Insurers that specialize in higher — cost plans mainly going to unionized companies squared off against those specializing in plans that cater to lower-wage workers on whether taxes should be raised on high-cost plans and at what level the tax would kick in. Middle — sized companies fought against small employers over the size of businesses that will be exempt from the requirement of insuring their employees. And on and on.
Many of these battles continue but have moved into the regulatory process, where different companies, sectors, and industries are seeking rules that advantage them and disadvantage their competitors.
As opposed to when? The only reason we had any chance of a real debate this time is that the Godzilla of the medical world, the AMA, had its monopoly of power broken by the insurance companies a few decades ago. Case in point: from the New York Times in 1965.
The American Medical Association said today that it was placing an advertisement in 100 newspapers to make its position clear on its opposition to health care reform. The advertisement calls health care reform ‘the beginning of socialized medicine.’
What was the AMA trying to nuke? Medicare.
Healthcare is a particularly good case because even if, for example, somehow you magically created a public debate “safe zone,” Big Pharma would still have plenty of indirect influence over it. Remember this charming story from the New York Times last year?
A growing body of evidence suggests that doctors at some of the nation’s top medical schools have been attaching their names and lending their reputations to scientific papers that were drafted by ghostwriters working for drug companies — articles that were carefully calibrated to help the manufacturers sell more products.
I’m not arguing we couldn’t rein in some of the insanity. But it’s ridiculous to that we can treat market power like it’s a stain on public discourse.
In fact, I think this denial makes the problem worse. By pretending that power isn’t an inextricable part of the economy, we undermine building support for the real solution — insuring everyone has a real say by creating Checks and Balances .