Friday, August 16, 2013

Of Raisins and Gaming: The Free Market and Other Fantasies

We are often told by the Rush Limbaughs, the Eric Cantors and the Rand Pauls of the world that we have a free market economy and the only entity which seeks to poison the pure stream of the free market is the big, bad federal government. 
This morning on NPR was a wonderful piece about the raisin board in Calfornia, which periodically tells raisin growers they have to throw out half their crops in order to avoid an increase in supply. This is frank collusion by producers to limit supply, which if airplane companies or tire manufacturers did it would result in CEO's going to jail. In fact, even doctors are forbidden to form groups to negotiate with insurance companies because that would be collusion and a violation of free trade and monoply laws.  But when raisin growers do this, it is protected by a Depression era law enacted to keep raisin prices high and to protect farmers who raise raisins.

Similarly, there is legal manipulation of what one man's vote means. Yesterday a civil rights leader, who marched with Martin Luther King was recorded saying, "We have marched too long, bleed too profusely, died too young to allow these people to take away our vote."  He was referring to legislation in states controlled by Republican legislatures which have reintroduced the 21st century redux of the poll tax and the qualifying exam at voting places which in the 20th century effectively denied the vote to Southern Blacks.  But the fact is, Gerrymandering in these states and others have rendered the individual votes meaningless: If you assign Black votes to voting districts overwhelmed by white votes then you dilute all those Black votes and wash them away in a tidal wave of white votes; or you can game the system by combining all the Black voters into one district and giving them one Representative and then you make six other districts which, in total, contain fewer voters than are voting in the one Black district, and you have 6 white Representatives going to Congress for the one Black Representative.  

So, the ideal of a free market and a democracy can be subverted by clever manipulation and gaming of the numbers. 

It reminds Mad Dog of that wonderful, final scene in Animal Farm where you look around the table from pig to man and from man to pig and you cannot tell who is pig and who is man.

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