Washington Examiner columnist Tim Carney walks a big beat: the unholy alliance between corporations and the state, which he first chronicled in his 2006 book The Big Ripoff: How Big Business and Big Government Steal Your Money. His new book, Obamanomics: How Barack Obama Is Bankrupting You and Enriching His Wall Street Friends, Corporate Lobbyists, and Union Bosses (Regnery), focuses on the corporatist domestic agenda of the Obama administration.
Associate Editor Peter Suderman interviewed Carney by email in November.
Q: You warn people about Obama's "big-government-big-business" agenda. Does that mean big corporations are the enemy?
A: Big corporations aren't necessarily the enemy, but I've found that the bigger a business is, the more likely it is to use big government for profit. There are many reasons for this, but the two most important are that regulation always adds to overhead, which disproportionately harms smaller businesses. Giving more power to the government means giving more influence to the lobbyists, and Mom and Pop can't afford the best lobbyists.
Q: You focus on Democrats. But are Republicans really any different?
A: I focus on Obama because he is currently the prime practitioner of corporatism, but also because his coziness with big business is so contrary to his rhetoric and so contrary to the view so much of the media have of him and his agenda. Fortune started an article in October with the line, "No one can accuse President Barack Obama of cozying up to corporate America." The article went on to note Obama's coziness with Google, but it painted this closeness as an exception. The Washington Post carried a straight news story claiming that "Obama intends to challenge the power of lobbyists." And of course, Obama has portrayed his health care regulations as a battle against well-funded special interests.
I think my book helps set the health care and global warming debates on a more level playing field. While most of the media buy into the Obama frame of reformers and sick people vs. greedy big business, Obamanomics details the many ways drug companies and even HMOs stand to profit from "reform" and are supporting it.
But Republicans were very guilty of increasing government in order to benefit big business. What were the GOP majority's two greatest offenses (domestically) against limited government? The Medicare drug entitlement and the Wall Street bailout. Both of these were corporate welfare programs. Corporatism is bipartisan, and Republicans, Democrats, K Street, and big business all have their hands in the pot.
Q: What about businesses that claim they have to keep pushing for regulatory favors because if they don't, their competitors will? Should all companies just shut down their government affairs departments?
A: It's antiquated now, but I still say don't hate the player, hate the game. There's a continuum from being a simple player to being the guy writing the rules. I would forgive the acceptance of subsidies, but I would also say that lobbying for subsidies is, in effect, theft, because you have no right to my money.
Q: So what's the solution? You can't restrain their speech.
A: Is a corporate executive allowed to sacrifice shareholder profit for the sake of moral scruples? I think so. BB&T has done this by refusing to finance development deals in which the land was stolen by eminent domain. I would love to see a freedom-based corporate social responsibility movement pop up.