Concentration of Power

Via Glenn Reynolds, I see that Arnold Kling has managed to come away from an anti-capitalism screed in Rolling Stone by Matt Taibbi with this conclusion:

For quite a while, but especially over the last nine months, the best way to predict developments in politics and finance has been to ask: what will do the most to increase the concentration of power? Every headline, from the Geithner regulatory plan to the proposed cap on the charitable deduction, to the resignation of the General Motors CEO, should be viewed in that light.

This confuses cause with effect.

While I was in the minority that opposed pretty much all of these governmental intrusions into the economy, the fact of the matter is that there has been a remarkable bipartisan consensus that the financial crisis is simply too big and the possible consequences of it spiraling out of control so dire that something had to be done.

For those with a libertarian bent on these matters, including Kling and myself, the mere fact that everyone agreed on this was further proof we were right.  But, again, we’re in a decided minority on this one.

That the consensus that government had to act was followed by government action is, shall we say, not surprising.  And, by definition, government intrusion gives government more power.   But the fact that a Democratic Congress was willing to give so much power to an incredibly unpopular Republican president — during an election cycle no less — is a pretty fair indicator that the power transfer was a byproduct of the action, not its motivation.

FILED UNDER: Political Theory, US Politics, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Steve Plunk says:

    Could it be that Democratic Congress knew it had a lock on the Presidency in a few months so why not give that power to the office? Ceding power for a few months knowing you’ll have it right back is not that big of a deal.

    Democrats and Republicans in office both want more power. This crisis is giving them the ability to consolidate and increase power like never before. Firing a CEO? Forcing banks to take more TARP money? Owning an insurance company? These are drastic departures from the traditional role of government and are going on while other, less intrusive solutions are ignored.

    Reasonable minds can disagree but I think history will prove this to be a power grab to move us toward European type socialism. Welfare state, higher regulations, some central planning. You have to have concentrated power to move us that direction.

  2. Floyd says:

    So… that begs the question…. What are they going to do tonight?
    The heart’s answer may vary but the Brain sez,
    “Same thing they do every night…..”

    [typed with my pinky]

  3. Phil Smith says:

    Of course they knew it, Steve. It didn’t exactly take a crystal ball. Even if you completely disregard every other factor in favor of Generic Democrat or Obama in particular, I can’t think of any historical examples where one party retained the Presidency when the electoral cycle coincided with an economy in the middle of a secular contraction. I’d be happy to be corrected, but I’d bet that a more pressing foreign policy issue accompanied any such retention.

  4. legion says:

    Steve, are you serious? That’s gotta be the most insane, irrational conspiracy theory I’ve ever seen you dump here. Congress & Bush’s Treasury department deliberately tanked the initial buyout plans to help the Democrats when they – as had already been ordained last Spring – won the November elections?!? You are seriously smoking some primo stuff there, dude.

    Glenn Reynolds also has the same failure of basic logic & common sense:

    what will do the most to increase the concentration of power?

    Ummm… the fact that the banking industry got pretty much everything it could possibly have wanted out of the initial program (the recent bonus dustup only happened after the general public started learning just how generous we’ve already been) seems like de facto evidence that the power Glenn seems so frightened of was already concentrated there and is just being abused where the public can see it now…

  5. Steve Verdon says:

    This confuses cause with effect.

    Government via its representatives wants more power, always. So it looks for opportunities to grab more power. Sometimes is creates them out of whole cloth (e.g. drug war). Other times such opportunities fall right in their lap (e.g. the financial crisis). You can see this intent clearly in the writings and comments of people like Rahm Emanuel.

    Basically, you never let a good crisis go to waste. The “great leaders” (whom I’d argue are always bad men) are the one’s who see the possibilities a crisis presents and seizes them.

    In this way, Arnold is right. It is also the same conclusion arrived at by Robert Higgs. Partisanship is only a side issue, IMO. After all, each side will increase their power knowing full well that in a few years the other side might be taking control and enjoying that power. Partisan issues doesn’t really seem to prevent the growth of government, at best it might slow it down at times.

  6. Steve Verdon says:

    By the way,

    I think that all along we have had a Washington/Wall Street industrial complex, particularly with regard to housing finance.

    Arnold is singing my tune. Quite literally, I’ve made this comment here a number of times. It isn’t Wall Street taking over Washington or just Washington taking over Wall Street. I think there has been a symbiotic relationship that is perverse in its very nature that has been going on for a very long time. Paulson, Geithner, Rubin, Emanuel, Bentsen, Brady, etc. all came from financial sector backgrounds or have had links there. They move back and forth between government and finance with tremendous ease, and I’m sure they aren’t the only ones. The whole thing is rather incestuous.

  7. odograph says:

    Jeez, it was fairly obvious that Taibbi ranting about concentrations of power, and not at all about market economies.

    (I did not say “capitalism” above because in the traditional definition is also about concentrations of power … but in the traditional form it also no longer exists. We have been a post-capitalist society since the 1920’s. The older Galbraith (whatever you think of his politics) correctly observed that we moved to a managerial capitalism which is not at all the same thing.)

    To look at the best path going forward we have to get back to the basic idea that we believe in democratic market economies, and try to balance those two ideas rationally (and non-ideologically).

  8. Floyd says:

    here is wikipedia’s input….
    is a radical, authoritarian nationalist ideology that aims to create a single-party state with a government led by a dictator who seeks national unity and development by requiring individuals to subordinate self-interest to the collective interest of the nation…

    Marxism ….
    is the political philosophy and practice derived from the work of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Marxism holds at its core a critical analysis of capitalism and a theory of social change. The powerful and innovative methods of analysis introduced by Marx have been very influential in a broad range of disciplines. In the 21st century, Marxist approaches have a theoretical presence in the Western academic fields of anthropology,[1] media studies,[2] theater, history, sociological theory, education, economics,[3] literary criticism, aesthetics, and philosophy.[4]

  9. DL says:

    The difficulty in determining good choice when the road ahead forks and there’s a bear (crisis) chasing you, is that you never get to find out what the other road offered – A: if the road you chose to travel is bumpy and the bear catches you gulp!…or B; the other road had two hungrier bears waiting to pounce upon the victim their bear friend pushed their way …gulp, gulp!

    So how does one make rational decisions? Answer: imperfect always , but past experience with sleazy used car salesmen, or to go down a notch, politicians who push hurry-up legislation they haven’t read and frantically screaming fear while they do it, often turn out to be the road with two bears on it.

    I must admit that I view these particular politicians as seeming not to mind heading into the very same danger area that their friends the Russian bear took!

    Or simply put in the words of Rhamn Emmanual -a crisis is too good of a thing to waste.

    We took the wrong road. Gird your loins, turn around and fight the damned bear!