The �Invisible Hand� is picking your pocket
By Jerry Mazza
Online Journal Associate Editor

May 1, 2008, 00:24

The Invisible Hand is a notion brought to us by Adam Smith in his Wealth of Nations. It poses that, �in a free market, an individual pursuing his own self-interest tends to also promote the good of his community,� cough, cough.

If you believe that, you�ll love how Smith subsequently reasoned that each individual, �maximizing revenue for himself maximizes the total revenue of society as a whole.� This gave the rich and greedy the right to plunder with impunity with the blessing of god, now as well as in Smith�s late 18th Century.

But what about those Cayman Island accounts for stashing cash without paying taxes? you ask. What about those tax-free kickbacks from government contractors to government officials? What about the government passing legislation to favor favored corporations (Big Pharma, Big Oil, Big Defense, Big Insurance, Big Polluters, Big NAFTA and CAFTA, Big Investment Banks, Big Subprime lending institutions) in the global economy?

After all, theirs is �The Invisible Hand,� maximizing their wealth while, actually, picking your pocket deeply. In return, they may make nice with a hand in building a museum, a hospital, funding some educational TV, supporting some liberal cause (with less money for each than for a reactionary cause). Or they look for a cure for AIDS (making believe it wasn�t weaponized by the CIA), eliminating malaria while banning DDT, faking at making the environment cleaner while fouling it with their products. Whatever they give is to offset the dinosauric lunch they�ve made of our treasury and the international banquet of world resources.

Ah well, so it goes. Or does it? The fact is that unrestrained, i.e. �free� trade is not free. It costs us a fortune, like the Social Security Bush wanted to purloin for Wall Street in the form of private accounts and their �administration fees� (privatization). Or as Linda Bilmes of Harvard and Nobel 2001 economist Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia U estimate: the Iraq war will really cost much more than $3 trillion to �bring Democracy� to the Middle East while it is purloining Middle Eastern oil by force of arms -- and, making money on that, too.

There are few scams, few noble causes which �The Invisible Hand� has not grabbed to cover for picking your pocket, in fact to reach down and squeeze your private assets as hard as possible while claiming it was good for you.

If that seems obscene, it is

It is more than obscene. It is illegal, reprehensible, selfish, inhuman, and the purveyor of elitist existence. For what enthusiasts call �free trade� is the imprisonment of the working world in their grip, as employees, as consumers, as human thinking, feeling beings.

Government, as any institution or individual, can�t be �free� in the abstract, without any regulation on the blind assumption that it will do good, simply while eating your legs off. That notion of free is really the jungle book version of Darwin�s Survival of the Fittest.

In fact, in the almost eight years of Bush blight, we have seen the removal of regulation in pollution of air, water, and land, and seen its results. We have seen the relaxation of taxing-the-rich and trade controls, and seen the various emerging corporate scandals, most notably the now bankrupt Enron, which took thousands of employee pensions and a few real lives down with its sinking ship.

As Stiglitz himself says in his book, Making Globalization Work, Whenever there are �externalities� -- where the actions of an individual have impacts on others for which they do not pay or for which they are not compensated -- markets will not work well. Some of the important instances have been long understood -- environmental externalities. Markets, by themselves, will produce too much pollution. Markets, by themselves, will also produce too little basic research. (Remember, the government was responsible for financing most of the important scientific breakthroughs, including the Internet and the first telegraph line, and most of the advances in bio-tech.)

�But recent research has shown that these externalities are pervasive, whenever there is imperfect information or imperfect risk markets -- that is always.

�Government plays an important role in banking and securities regulation, and a host of other areas: some regulation is required to make markets work. Government is needed, almost all would agree, at a minimum to enforce contracts and property rights. . . ."

The restoration of balanced control of government and private enterprise is at the heart of our economic dilemmas these days. Our government is totally �out of control� in respect to eliminating control. Hence the endless flow of treasury dollars into preemptive war, the non-seeking of alternative energies with any real commitment to funding; the sacking of the environment by non-friendly corporate abusers; even the total abuse and fraud, the hacking of the electoral system itself. There is no sector of our life that the perverse �Invisible Hand� hasn�t laid its corrupt fingers on, including the total neglect of the country's infrastructure.

And so we now have private corporations taking control of state and national toll roads. What was the people�s property is rapidly being sold off to multi-national corporations that will lump the nations of the South and North Americas together like so much silly putty. Their interests are only their own corporations, as is that of the North American Union, whether it�s mining, trade, trucking, ports, or taxation. In short, the �Invisible Hand� has put our world on the table of the market like a slain carcass to auction off each piece to the highest, hungriest bidder.

It�s fighting back time

So, thank you, Mr. Bush, Cheney, Ms. Rice, et al, for turning the economic clock back to the stone-age. Perhaps this May Day, as the Freedom Socialist Party suggests, offers us the chance to take to the streets in protest, with workers around the world: the Iraqi popular resistance movement with heroic strikes by the Oil Workers Union to prevent the US from privatizing Iraq�s oil; by Palestinians in Gaza who broke through the walls of their prison and fought back at the brutal Israeli occupation. IDF Refusenicks are on the rise.

In Latin America, nationals are joining the fight against multi-nation �free trade� agreements. Support for revolutionary action is filling the air. A mostly female workforce of more than 41,000 teachers has recently shut down schools to demand smaller class sizes and doubling meager salaries. Would that their fellow teachers in America make similar demands for smaller classes and a more truthful, educative curriculum than passing standardized �Every Child Left Behind� testing.

Even in overworked China, thousands protest or strike each day for improved working and living conditions. Pressure for a state-run trade union federation to take necessary steps is looming. All of us have to slap �The Invisible Hand� hard before it swipes all bargaining chips from the table. In the US, labor leaders should give their angry workers a chance for CEOs to hear their complaints. Stop cozying up to management. Rank-and-file organizing is shaking up and energizing the United Auto Workers and the Service Employees International Union. In Seattle, leaders have created a multi-union activist caucus. Amalgamated Transit Union members also now have a rank-and-file caucus in their local.

As �The Invisible Hand� of a visibly out-of-control Capitalism shows itself taking away benefits, job stability, health care, retirement plans from employees, the workers, their unions, their representatives have to slap that hand and fight for justice. We need to fight against the desperation of poor people from Egypt to Mexico to Haiti to the good old USA. We are many, they are few. It is the people�s muscle that gives �The Invisible Hand� its strength and power. And we can take it away as well. Let that message be heard loud and clear in every dark corner of this country and the world.

Jerry Mazza is a free-lance writer living in New York. Reach him at

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