Another Liberal Columnist Criticizes Capitalism

October 25th, 2008 11:15 AM

Who wrote the following?:

"Societies in which the few are allowed to fatten themselves without limit on the labor of many are not just."

A. Friedrich Engels
B. William Ayers
C. Michelle Obama
D. Timothy Rutten

Any of the answers would make sense, but the headline kind of gave it away. It was Timothy Rutten of the LA Times who penned that immortal line in his column of today.  In doing so, Rutten echoes other in the MSM, as here and here, who in the wake of the financial markets' travails indulge in a certain anti-capitalist chic.

Let's have some fun deconstructing the intrepid class warrior's musings . . .

Alan Greenspan is the column's focus, and Rutten criticizes the former Fed chief's choice of reading material.

[T]he former Fed chairman spent more than 20 years of his life as a disciple of the novelist-turned-barely-baked-philosopher Ayn Rand, whose concepts of "rational egoism" and "individualism" put the "R" in ruthless and have provided generations of gullible undergraduates an intellectual rationale for their lingering adolescent self-absorption.

So Ayn Rand fans and free-market types are self-absorbed?  Unlike, say, Barack "We Are the Change We've Been Waiting For" Obama, author of . . . two autobiographies?

Does Greenspan really believe that banks, brokerages, rating agencies and insurance companies act of their own accord? Even he has to understand that the people who run them decide how they respond, even to market forces.

What? HAL the computer isn't running the spaceship of our economy?  Behind the corporate names there are actually people making the decisions? Who knew?

The idea of loyalty -- or of just a sort of reciprocal obligation, for that matter -- simply doesn't operate on Wall Street or much of anywhere in American business any more.

Yes, if only we could return to the warm 'n fuzzy days of the Robber Barons. In any case, Rutten is wrong.  Reciprocal obligation continues to rule.  You work, your employer is obliged to pay you.  You have a contract with provisions limiting his right to fire you, he's bound by it.  You don't, he can fire you at will, but you can also walk away if you see a better opportunity, as millions do every year.

For nearly as long as Greenspan has hovered in the financial stratosphere, U.S. companies have been encouraged to treat their workers like any other "expense." Wall Street has rewarded -- indeed, lionized -- companies "tough enough" to treat workers like the electric bill. Presto! Layoffs became "cost management."

Rutten draws a connection between Greenspan's tenure and the treatment of employees as an expense.  He doesn't—can't—adduce any evidence of that, of course.  But guess what?  Employees are an expense, as someone like Rutten who works at the beleaguered LA Times surely knows.

No one begrudges a company about to go out of business the right to cut payroll, but now nobody blinks when a CEO throws people out of work for an uptick in the stock price or to ease the service of ill-considered debt. It's been a long time since anyone who analyzes the economy has been willing to say that it's immoral for a profitable firm to deprive families of their income and health insurance, to strip hardworking men and women of labor's dignity [emphasis added].

Let's see if we understand the Rutten Rules.  A business on the brink of bankruptcy is allowed to lay people off.  But businesses that want to prevent themselves from getting to the brink of bankruptcy can't.  Got it.

Rutten closes by accusing Greenspan of "moral bankruptcy."  I challenge Rutten to describe in detail how he'd re-organize our economy to make it more moral in his eyes.  If it is indeed true that "societies in which the few are allowed to fatten themselves without limit on the labor of many are not just," precisely how would Rutten change our society to make it more just?

Earlier this week, I suggested that Maggie Rodriguez of CBS, who doesn't like prices to be set by supply and demand, become Obama's Commissar of the Bureau for the Pricing of Goods Based on What They Should be Priced On. In the same spirit, perhaps a President Obama could name Rutten Overseer of the Office of the Prevention of Business Immorality and the Stripping of Hardworking Men and Women.

Note: For a man worried about American workers losing jobs and income, Rutten is surprisingly insouciant about illegal immigration.  Lou Dobbs is not a huge Rutten fan.