Crony Capitalism, N+1 Edition

A couple of years ago I read a book by sociologist Arlie Hochschild called the Outsourced Self. The book is an account of Hochschild’s investigation into how the logic of the market—commodification, efficiency, promotion—was creeping into more and more intimate parts of our lives. While I consider some of what she encountered to be problematic but probably a net-positive overall (e.g., online dating, nannies and helpers), there are other things that are genuinely disturbing (e.g., “household consultants”, commercial surrogacy).

Today, I encountered two examples of capitalism encroaching into spheres where it probably shouldn’t, with horrible results for society (and great results for the enriched few).

First, conservative outcast David Frum examined the state of super PACs—organisations that have been blessed by the US Supreme Court to raise (mostly from a few rich donors) and spend vast amounts of money on political campaigns. Frum focused on Jeb Bush’s doomed campaign, whose super PAC astoundingly raised over $100 million. The result was bad enough (and perhaps provides a hopeful counterexample to the notion that money buys political success). However, what’s really fascinating is Frum’s account of those who benefited most—the consultants who feasted off the bonanza while accomplishing nothing for the hapless Bush.

Second, defence attorney Greg Toucette fired off a tweet-storm about defending a young black man (YBM) from a reckless driving charge, and the photo that saved his client from the blatantly false allegation made by the police officer. It was an illustrative example of the horrendously broken criminal justice system in the US. One of the underlying causes: local governments straining under the economic damage inflicted by crony capitalism of the recent past and perversely using the criminal justice system as a revenue source, thereby immiserating thousands (millions?) of mostly young, mostly poor, mostly non-white people.

Sad, but true.