Pro-Business vs. Pro-Market

While I think the noise about the death of newspapers is often rather overblown, one natural consequence is the rise of bought-and-paid-for press, laid out in this interesting portrait of the new management at the San Diego Union-Tribune, Douglas Manchester.  Basically, this large real estate developer is using the main paper in San Diego to push for a civic project centered around a new stadium, and using the power of the press to dig into public officials and agencies opposed to his plan.  The rise of the shill press makes sense as newspapers cease to be economically self-sufficient, and that’s all well and good.  Props to Mr. Manchester on being so forthright with his objectives, honestly.

However, the case of the Chargers stadium is absurd on the merits and exposes the real difference between being pro-business and pro-market.  While the New York Times very solicitously reproduces Mr. Manchester’s self-identification as “pro-business” and “anti-big-government”, his actual positions reflect the one but certainly not the other.  Mr. Manchester is using his San Diego platform to push for a massive city-financed stadium plan, wherein the city ponies up tons of money and…the Chargers get a stadium.  It’s certainly “pro-business”, in that it is extremely aggressive state-led capital investment, except instead of Soviet-style state-owned steel & concrete enterprises it is subsidizing capital accumulation for the richest sports league in the United States.

The relative economic merits of those two strategies are….unclear.

However, it demonstrates very forcefully that in the world of actually-existing capitalism (with apologies to Pravda), the last thing most companies want is less state intervention in the market.  This is often especially evident on the local level, and local subsidies to NFL teams are probably the single most flagrant example.  However, it’s no less true on the national level.   Rather than representing a meaningful debate between pro-market and anti-market forces, a lot of economic debate focuses on where the state should be intervening in the economy.  The energy sector is perhaps the clearest example, where reasonably everybody feels that it is too important to be left to the market.  The left favors subsidies for clean energy, the right for traditional energy.

This is pretty endemic to all economic sectors requiring very heavy capital expenditures, and when push comes to shove left-right divisions don’t seem to be particularly important.  Obama bailed out Detroit, Bush the airlines.  They also both pulled out all the stops to help the banks, which admittedly doesn’t fit the railroad-y model of capex I have proposed.  Really, the upshot is just that big business doesn’t need big government, but anyone who pairs “pro-business” & “anti-big-government” might have a bridge to sell you.

At least if you can offer him some loan guarantees.


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