A couple of weeks ago I debunked two of the Right’s more cherished fantasies: the utter failure of low-tax policies and privativation in actual practice, an outcome that doesn’t surprise anybody who hasn’t turned their brain over to conservatives for ritual slaughter and squashing. I’ve been meaning to take on the third for a while now, and today’s WaPo gives me a reasonably good excuse. This may not be the most egregious of instances but it will serve nicely as a classic example of how the corporatocracy works when unrestricted by govt regulation – it takes as much as its fat little fingers can get hold of.
That’s right. I’m talking about the Deregulation Myth.
Ronnie sold the country on deregulation by avowing a “common sense” belief in the grown-upness of corporate executives who, he insisted, would never take advantage of weak laws to rip off consumers. The conservatives’ vaunted “free market” would effectively prevent dishonesty, price-fixing, and over-charging. Govt interference (read: “regulations”) just made things difficult for business by adding a layer of costly bureaucracy that forced them to raise their prices to cover all the paperwork they had to do. The Congress, with a Deomocratic majority led then as now by conservative Blue Dogs who were Pubs in everything but name, promptly began the destruction by deregulating the airline industry.
Well, we all know how that ended. The airline industry has been in chaos ever since. Airlines appear and disappear with the frequency of grrl/boy bands, cut maintenance budgets until their planes are ready to fall apart, cut service, squeeze 4 passengers into a space meant for 2, and underfund employee pensions or cancel them outright. Pilots, mechanics, and flight attendants have all had their pay cut drastically; layoffs are so common that many carriers are chronically understaffed and running skeleton crews; many of them wind up in bankruptcy, from which they have to be bailed out by…us, of course; and service is at an all-time low – meals so cheap they’re almost inedible (when they’re offered at all), more luggage lost than ever before, long lines at ticket counters, delays so common we assume them, and so on.
The Telecommunications Bill all but deregulated the cable industry, promising that it would mean the lowering of rates as the “free market” forced competition. If you have cable, you know that isn’t true but confirmation – if you need it – comes from Montgomery County, Virginia, where a supposed “cable war” between Verizon and Comcast has resulted not in lower rates but higher ones.
Bills for thousands of Montgomery County cable viewers will increase by 4 percent starting March 1, when Comcast Corp., suburban Maryland’s largest cable television provider, raises rates throughout the Washington region.
Montgomery leaders had hoped that competition from a new provider, Verizon Communications Inc., would help lower prices. But Comcast said recently that cable bills would climb in line with increases for subscribers throughout Maryland, the District and Northern Virginia.
The announcement comes after the county fined Comcast twice in the past six months for failing to meet benchmarks for customer service.
The Montgomery and Prince George’s county councils signed off in November on agreements to allow Verizon to begin offering fiber-optic television service. Company officials hailed the “benefits of choice” for customers, including less expensive service.
Verizon has since raised its rates for new customers by 7.6 percent. And RCN, the third company that offers cable television service in Montgomery, raised its base price last month by 15 percent. (emphasis added)
So much for the “free market”.
Deregulation of the airline industry has, indeed, meant lower prices for consumers. But we’ve paid for those prices by sacrificing safety, reliability, and service. In the energy industry (remember Enron?) deregulation has meant the beginning of a free-for-all in market manipulation, over-charging, stock speculation, and price-gouging the like of which hasn’t been seen since the days of the Robber Barons. And in telecommunications, prices have been rising steadily since the TC Bill was passed, consumer satisfaction is down, and a corporate culture has arisen that disdains both local govt and its own customers. Comcast, for instance, collects data on what shows you watch and sells it to advertisers without your permission in defiance of privacy laws. It doesn’t even bother telling its customers it’s doing that.
In fact, the corporate culture as a whole, for all its sloganeering about “customer service”, has become increasingly arrogant. Deregulation, a pro-corporate national govt, and a public sector faltering due to the low-tax experiment which starves it of the money it needs to operate competently have combined to give the corporatocracy the impression that we aren’t citizens so much as captive consumers who have to buy what they tell us to buy at whatever exorbitant price they decide to set. And to a certain extent, they’re right. We have turned a large chunk of our public square over to them. A little over 3 years ago, I wrote:
[Our] troubles are the result of a tax-cutting, tax-eliminating craze that is forcing everyone into the same boat: commercializing what should not be commercialized.
Our penny-pinching, “look out for #1 and screw everybody else” denial of any social responsibility is forcing public programs like schools and county governments to cover their budget shortfalls by trying to woo corporate dollars in exchange for commercial considerations. This trend is fairly advanced already: schools are plastered with ads, a significant chunk of their operating funds often comes from vending machines, some schools have contracts which pay them for broadcasting commercial tv shows in the classroom that are masquerading as “educational programming” and are no such thing, universities are increasingly prevented from offering certain courses or programs when large corporate donors object, professors are prevented by college administrations from publishing papers or books critical of corporate donors on pain of losing their jobs, public libraries are trying to attract corporate sponsors in a desperate attempt to remain open in the face of vanishing budgets. Even commercial operations like cineplexes are selling commercial time – when you go to a movie nowadays, a movie you already paid to get into, you’re forced to sit through anywhere from 5 to 10 mins of commercial ads.
Everything I said then is still true only more so, and deregulation is one of the most important of the facilities that allow the corporatocracy to annex our community as if it’s free land, there for the taking. Deregulation means there’s nobody looking out for our interests and anything they can get away with using their power and political pull is fair game. They don’t have to worry about fines or govt “interference”. They’ve broken every promise they made to us when we gave them that power, and there have been zero consequences for their bad faith. Deregulation makes lying and contract-breaking just another weapon in the corporate arsenal aimed at maximizing profits at our expense.
It’s time to admit that, as with low taxes and privatization, deregulation is an utter failure. We get none of the benefits its proponents said we would and are paying all the bills they said we wouldn’t. It has allowed the corporatocracy to usurp legitimate community functions for its own profit, appropriating our cities and towns and even states like Hitler annexing Poland. And what do we get in return? Almost nothing. A pittance and a slap from the back of its hand.
After 6 years of Republican rule, we are living with the results of deregulation (and non-regulation enforcement) and they ain’t pretty.
End deregulation. NOW.