Look: I am eager to learn stuff I don't know--which requires actively courting and posting smart disagreement.

But as you will understand, I don't like to post things that mischaracterize and are aimed to mislead.

-- Brad Delong

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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Bork's Deep and Abiding Influence

After his defeat as a Supreme Court nominee in 1987, Robert Bork gradually faded away from the public consciousness.  I can tell you, in the intervening 25 years, I probably gave him no thought at all.

But Bork had enormous influence on the modern interpretation of anti-trust law, perhaps single-handedly redefining the scope and purpose of anti-trust legislation.  Basically, Bork was pro-efficiency and anti-anti-trust.  He swallowed whole the bait-bucket of Chicago-economic-school ideas of market efficiency, and built the entire framework of his pro-trust belief system on that invalid foundation.

It seems fair to say that it is in large part because of Bork's influence that we now have trans-national mega-corporations with huge monopolies and oligopolies.  These corporations have no inherent loyalty to anyone nor anything.  In my view, the oligarchs that run them do not even have a general sense of loyalty to stock-holders, let alone the broader universe of sake-holders, who mainly exist to be exploited.

Efficiency, in and of itself is a good thing.  But it cannot be achieved in a vacuum - there are externalities that are largely negative.  For one thing, the efficiencies are mainly internalized and do not necessarily represent a more broadly efficient society.  Second, as a market gets concentrated, competition decreases and the pressure to improve, or even maintain status-quo efficiency slowly erodes.  This ultimately leads to a situation where big, lumbering, inefficient but extremely powerful entities control the economic and political landscape.  Yes, Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big insurance, Big Finance, I am looking at you.

Perhaps worse, though, is the power asymmetry that results from size and influence.  Suppliers, customers, and the public at large are overwhelmed by the sheer might of these institutions, leading to even greater concentrations of power and wealth.

The end game is some version of economic collapse.  It happened in the 1930's, and - due largely to Chicago-style economic thinking, we've spent the last 40 years unlearning the lessons of that time - it happened again in 2008.

Most of the time, evil doesn't manifest as some cackling cartoon villain or mad-man on a murderous rampage.  It results, in a far more banal but far-reaching way, from the highly refined ideas of men like Robert Bork who value abstract concepts like efficiency over the effects the programs they institute over the lives of real human beings.


Suzan said...

Thanks, sweetie.

Someone needed to speak clearly at this time about this man's influence on the easily misled.

I hear they're planning a place for him on Mt. Rushmore.

Right after the Bushes, Reagan, and the reclaimed Nixon replace those misguided Founding Fathers.

He did beat out Kissinger, but you know how they feel about foreigners.

Happy Hols!


Stagflationary Mark said...

Merry Christmas!

Brian Miller said...

dang...true that...when we put anything over the value of human life we are in for a world of hurt...