Resisting Elites’ Resistance to the Rule of Law (Review of Glenn Greenwald’s With Liberty and Justice for Some)
(Glenn Greenwald is having a fundraiser; link here. I think his work is well worth supporting.)
There are few (if any) “free markets” in the largest sectors of the US economy. The health care industry is a labyrinth of public and private payers. Sectors known as “guard labor” are also larded with subsidies. The Departments of Defense and Homeland security contract with thousands of companies. The communications industry enjoys various government “givings.” And at this point, everyone knows that our largest financial institutions are taxpayer supported entities. Without the implicit backing of the federal government, they would collapse.
Government subsidy to large industries is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. When wages are stagnant and capital gains are mainly enjoyed by the top thousandth of the population, some entity has to spend for common provision. But the price of that spending should be higher standards for the propped-up industry. In health care, for instance, Medicare Conditions of Participation (and laws like the 1986 EMTALA) require many hospitals to provide care regardless of patients’ ability to pay. Tough fraud and abuse enforcement subjects providers’ bills to rigorous audits; privacy law will soon require audit-capability for digital medical records. Legislation passed in 2009 and 2010 creates many other requirements to channel private provision of health care toward more public ends. It’s certainly not a perfect system, but regulation is serious and purposeful. There are real consequences for many lawbreakers.
Glenn Greenwald tells a very different story about three other heavily subsidized industrial sectors. He gives us serious reason to doubt that law has constrained banks, telcos, and the security sector when they posed critical threats to our economy, privacy, and liberty. His book With Liberty and Justice for Some is a passionate indictment of four distinct trends:
1) elites who violate laws with impunity,
2) retroactive immunity for acts unlawful at the time they were committed,
3) lobbyists’ power to influence legislators to render bad conduct lawful or even subsidized, and
4) a radical increase in punishment of those who fall outside the charmed circle of political and economic elites.
Greenwald has examined each area in his blog, as have other, lonely voices in corporate law (and a more robust chorus in communications & cyberlaw troubled by telecomms’ sweetheart deals). The vital contribution of With Liberty and Justice for Some is to show how the four trends mutually reinforce one another, contributing to a politics of wealth and privilege defense commonly known as oligarchy.