Thursday, October 2, 2008

Free Market-Free Speech

Because of the turmoil in our markets it is appropriate to examine whether there is any connection between the free-market philosophy and the concept of free speech. We in the United States have a felt impression that democracy, free speech and free markets are all part of one integral concept. So we in the United States believe that ,for instance , free markets in China will inevitably lead to free speech and then democracy. If you have lived and worked abroad you will know that this is not true. An article by Professor Charles Wyplosz , a professor of economics at the Graduate Institute in Geneva Switzerland deals with these ideas.

The concept of free markets is an Anglo-American idea. It is not a concept that is subscribed to by virtually the rest of the industrialized world. As a matter of fact in the current crisis there is quite a backlash to this concept. The French president and the German chancellor and officials in India, China, Argentina are calling not only for the United States put its house in order. They feel that it is their right to do this because they have been financing our debt for a long time.Also because whatever happens in the United States affects the rest of the world, that in fact there should be rules regarding financial markets that apply to the entire world including the United States. There is a backlash in the delicate balance between individualism and solidarity. The USA is known for and practices individual responsibility. In many other countries this individualism is seen as selfishness and greed. The emphasis in other countries is instead on solidarity with your fellow citizen. Other industrialized countries for instance create incentives to support programs , like nationalized health care, even if they are inefficient.

The assertion that individualism delivers the common best, is not popular outside of the United States and Great Britain. These critics insist that that assertion is only approximately correct because it assumes that markets are perfect, which is never the case in practice. And where there are problems or catastrophes , like the one we are experiencing now,the free marketeer views this as a deviation from the ideal and seen as a regrettable side effect. The basic concept about the market, that it always allocates resources better was never true. The financial markets for instance suffer from very serious failures , chiefly, as Professor Wyplosz puts it, "information asymmetry". The professor is very kind. It is like saying that when someone lies he is being " economical with the truth." "Information Asymmetry " is exactly the same.

The Anglo-American market model has been perverted. We have championed arm's-length finance. This is the financing of corporations through the issuance of shares and bonds to anonymous stakeholders. But the basis on which that concept works is information. If there are no rules and regulations with consequences, operators in this marketplace are free to supply whatever information they please.You know, "caveat emptor", the "buyer beware." And if this information is misleading or false and there are dire consequences as mentioned above, this is viewed as an "unfortunate side effect" of an otherwise perfect system. And as we make our way through the " Information Asymmetry" contained in zillions of derivatives, collateralized instruments , futures contracts , short selling, etc. we must conjure up a situation where a person organized and presented these concepts to executives somewhere. It would be interesting to discover who was this person. Because in the presentation, what is obvious to all of us now, could not have escaped those "worthies" who made the decision to market these fatally flawed ideas. And then someone in a very high place had to explain this to the top financial figures in our government. This must be so since these instruments were not traded surreptitiously. And these originators obviously had access to our secretaries of treasury and federal reserve chairmen. And how did they have this access? And because these instruments were widely traded, our officials obviously listened with a sympathetic ear. One wonders how that happened? Do you think you would be anywhere near the answer if "you followed the money."

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Buckley v. Valeo and Wall Street Collapse

Does the issue of "Free Speech for Sale have anything to do with the current credit crisis ? WHAT? Of course!!!!! How does one get the members of congress or an administration to relax or eliminate oversight rules? How does one get an admistration or a congressional oversight committee to relax the implimetation of oversight? "All the President's Men " said it. "Follow the money." The persons with the most money and the determoination to do it will inject itself or oneself in the political process. There is an equation that you and I can take for granted; we don't have to "prove" it. The more money you inject in the process the more access you can secure. Yes this is an exercise in "free speech" according to our Supreme Court . It is also , quite rightly the constitutional exercise of a citizen's right to petition the government. But does there come a point where your purchase of "free speech" so crowds out another citizen's right to free speech so as to destroy the latter's right to free speech? Is that the way it is? can we do anything about it? Should we do anything about it ?

Monday, September 22, 2008


The case of Buckley vs. Valeo was decided by the US Supreme Court and stands for the proposition that in the USA money EQUALS free speech.

This case has skewered our political sysytem to the extent that whatever message we the people send to the politicians when we cast our vote, that message is subject to change and modification in all events by those with access to the politicians we have placed in office. We may think we have sent a message but the way the system works is that for all the time before and the day after the election and for every day, night, Sunday, Holiday ,vacations, golf junkets, brainstotrming sessions, airplane rides, cocktail parties, fancy dinners, those with the wherewithall are trying to adjust whatever has been decided or is going to be decided to their financial gain or other objectives.

We have the constitutional right to "petition our government." And money equals free speech.

There are corrollaries to that latter proposition and one of them is you can't tell people how to spend their money nor can you prevent them from spending it as they wish except for illegal endeavors-like engaging someone to eliminate your spouse. One of the other corrollarries is that therefore "the more money you have the more free speech you can buy. "

Maybe you can afford a full time staff in Washington DC to wine and dine the "worthies" and spread the staff all over the government telling them that your interpretation of this law or regulation was not the one congress intended but otherwise. But a lot of us can't. So a lot of questions arise from this. The one I have in mind is a concept in English common law which we have adopted here in the USA which is " your right to do anything you want stops at the tip of my nose." So moving this concept over to the issue of moneyand free speech the question becomes , "does there come a point at which person A's overwhelming use of money to express his free speech figuratively hits the tip of my nose and denies me my right to free speech?"

This is what this blog is all about. I do not see this as a partisan issue. I saw Chris Hedges formerly of the NY Times who recently said on C-span that ther is a slow motion coup de etat in the USA by large USA corporations. I have read George Will the conservative columnist who decried the present administration's policies as giving to the large corporations anything they want.

This is not a rant against big corporations and I have been in senior executive positions and a board member of these corporations. I have nothing but the best regard for those institutions.

My view is that theer has been a perversion of our democracy and the trajectory will be our undoing if it doesn't stop. We don't like to think about it but there may be almost a trillion dollars spent on the campaign for President of the USA. The President makes $ 400,000.00 per year. Who are those people who are leveraging their time and money for this campaign? What is it that they expect to get out of it or accomplish. is it in our national interest ?

I think that the concept in Buckley v. Valeo will be difficult to overturn nor am I convinced that it would be desireable.

The idea of this blog is to have a serious discussion about how can we deal with the other side of the equation. We can't control how people spend their money but we may be able to create a situation within the concepts of our democracy to diffuse the importance and relevance of money in operating and working within our system of government.