This Isn’t Capitalism

There’s a lot of hostility to capitalism in contemporary discourse–on this blog, among Sanders’ supporters and elsewhere. All too  often, however, the problem with that public debate is that we’re not “doing” actual capitalism.

A recent article from the New York Times reported on an “inside baseball” effort to overturn a consumer-friendly regulation promulgated by the F.C.C. It is an all-too-common story–members of Congress who portray themselves as defenders of market economics, but whose actions are those of corporatists, not capitalists.

Last month, 60 lawmakers signed a letter objecting to an F.C.C. regulation that would open the market for cable television set-top boxes. The agency proposed reforming the rules so that consumers can pick any television device to receive cable and online video, rather  than being forced to “lease” the boxes from their cable providers.

The competition would be great for consumers, but it would cut into the industry’s $19.5 billion in annual set-top-box rental fees.

So why, do you suppose, are these defenders of market economics, these critics of socialism, so upset by a regulation that actually frees up private enterprise and encourages free market transactions?

The Times article provides a clue:

Cable industry lobbyists also helped gather the 60 signatures on the set-top-box letter; nearly all of the lawmakers who signed count cable and telecom companies as top campaign donors, according to federal disclosures. The behind-the-scenes activity by cable companies and their industry groups is part of the biggest lobbying push. The trigger? A string of proposed regulations by the F.C.C. …  The target of much of the cable industry’s ire is Tom Wheeler, chairman of the F.C.C. Wheeler has also been joined by President Obama, who endorsed the set-top-box proposal in April.

It isn’t only set-top boxes. Cable industry lobbyists also object to proposals that would be more protective of consumer privacy–that would restrain the practice of selling personal information to companies engaging in targeted advertising, among other things. But the effort to overturn the set-box regulation speaks volumes (no pun intended) on the hypocrisy of our “free market” politicians.

The problem is, very few Americans who truly do have a dog in this fight will ever hear about this particular effort to protect the bottom line of cable companies, or the other obscure and technical wheeling and dealing that protects the perquisites of the powerful at the expense of the powerless.

After all, it’s just a few dollars more each month to lease that box….

Who was it who said “a few million here, a few million there–pretty soon, you’re talking real money…”?


  1. I wish that I had listened more scrulously in Government class,es and I wish more frevently that there were Government classes required in Indiana now.

  2. Please correct: I wish that I had listened more scrupulously in Government classes long age, and I wish even more fervently that there were Government classes required for graduation now.

  3. Well, well, well! I found this blog most interesting being a customer of Bright House Networks. I am “leasing” one big box and two small boxes; I made this decision after 2-3 years battling directly with the Bright House closed captioning contact over the many captioning problems (which have NOT improved). After frequent messages from Doug Kramer touting, not only be better quality captioning and more viewing options available via these miraculous boxes, he informed that they would be required in the future due to programming switching to digital from analog. He agreed this had been “settled” in the recent past and those without cable did purchase boxes to view all local channels in digital but that most channels are still broadcast in analog.

    These miraculous boxes periodically cut off, scramble signals, provide some channels in digital and analog. When the signal is lost, I must get on the floor, unplug the box to allow the inner computer to reboot itself, replug, use the System option to reset my TV, then click on the TV option and turn on the Power. Being 79 and disabled; getting up and down from the floor is not easy…nor is it a pretty sight when I have guests and the box decides it is not going to operate.

    A few weeks ago I received a letter from the President and CEO of Sprectum, Tom Rutledge, informing me they have “completed the transaction with Bright House Networks” which will soon be known as Spectrum. Tom assured me I will continue with my current service and will soon hear more about product and service improvements. He does state Spectrum “will be an all digital service”. Not one word about any cost changes. “After all, it’s just a few dollars more each month to lease that box….” Bright House provides my cable TV, Internet and land line phone (in case I need to call 911) for only $149+ per month our of my $809 Social Security and $277.62 PERF checks.

    Being deaf and disabled I depend on my Internet service as my primary source of communication; there are many like myself who are in the same position of need but it is not a consideration when it comes to our bills. One of the former commenters on this blog had to drop her cable and Internet service because she could no longer afford them on her limited SS income. Our generation has helped to build this country, warts and all, and are watching our meager SS and retirement checks being eaten up by the current controlling corporatists with no change in sight.

  4. The problem in areas like I used to live, there was no competition for cable services. When we lived in Tucson, one company provided services for one part of town and another service to another part of town. You didn’t have a choice at all. We dumped cable for a while but we ended up with Satellite and it cost us about $200 + to cancel the service when we moved abroad. Daylight robbery is what my spouse call it and we pay half of that here because not only is it regulated, but there’s competition and people shop around for the best bang for their buck.

  5. Our collective hostility to “capitalism” really is a hostility to the lack of it. The voters know that politicians must answer to their large financial contributors, which buys corporate donors power and comes with financial rewards much greater than their relatively small investment in the politicians. That is why we are so angry about Citizens United. Money has created a plutocracy in this country.

    One positive outcome from the FCC is the recent decision to maintain net neutrality for all internet users in this country. The major players in the market fought hard to eliminate it so they could charge larger fees for those who want fast internet speeds. I imagine this fight will rear its ugly head again in the not too distant future. Those with power may just have to spend more money to gain the control they want so they can charge even higher prices to consumers.

  6. I remember having to rent telephones too. It’s probably just a matter of time before we can buy a cable box.

  7. JoAnn,

    Don’t unplug your cable box from the wall outlet. Unplug it from the back of the box. It’s easier and you don’t have to get on your hands and knees to reach it.

    I have been anxiously awaiting the final rules from the F.C.C on this. I have a lot of TVs because I frequently have a house full of guests and this would save me a lot of money. What could save me even more is if the F.C.C would require cafeteria channel selection. That way, instead of paying for a lot of channels neither I nor my guests would ever watch, I could pay only for those I want.

    For those who care AARP is one of the groups pushing hard for this new rule. Let them and let your Senators know that you support it.

  8. I recently found two devices at Verizon in Indy. One is a mobile “hot spot” device that costs 10.00 / month . The other is a similar device that connects the home phone via a wireless device for 10.00 / month. If that proves correct, I could get Phone + Internet for 20.00 / month. That would be huge since I now pay 160.00 for the triple service from Brighthouse. Also, Charter offers triple service in other states for 90.00 / month. It MIGHT be offered here but if they can screw us like brighthouse, why would they lower our rates. More will be revealed.

  9. Peggy; my box is located on the shelf below my big screen TV, I do unplug from the back of the box. But, due to severe imbalance cannot just bend over because I would fall so I must drop to one knee, bend slightly and reach under the TV to reach the box. I do thank you for caring enough to send the suggestion.

  10. We got an inside view of the official Republican mindset when the Donald was in Scotland. In light of the huge news that the EU & England might get a divorce, that millions of people were seeing their investments tank, that trillions of dollars of worth were vaporizing….. Donald saw it only as a PLUS for Donald. “Whats in it for ME?” is the Republican view of the world. Thanks Donald. Don’t hold back.

  11. GOP Sen. Everett Dirksen has been widely misattributed for “A million here, a million there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.” He had used the phrase “a billion here, a billion there” but not the rest of it. Even Dirksen denied it in his lifetime. However, he is widely overlooked (in favor of LBJ) for his role in getting the Civil Rights Act through Congress, back when the GOP was still Grand.

  12. Back in the early 1970’s I took a course in Economics in College. The Instructor basically said the system was rigged. We had the Big Three Auto makers, Big Steel, Ma Bell and the Seven Sisters of Oil. One section of our book discussed interlocking directorates among corporations. This translated as the CEO’s and Board of Directors could and did serve on the Boards of Directors of other companies. Retired politicians would be selected to serve on the Board of Directors and would then provide the “in” or a spouse or child of the politician could be selected. Campaign contributions, and PACs are big part of the picture. Thus, the Wall Street-Security-Military-Industrial Complex.

    Bernie Sanders called Wall Street a fraud. Bernie called the campaign finance corrupt. America did not want to listen.

    Democrats get all in lather about the Koch Bros and their role in money and influencing politics, but are strangely silent about Hillary receiving $7M from George Soros for her PAC.
    I guess some Oligarchs are better than others.

  13. I think that capitalism has been overly promoted. After all make more money regardless of the impact on others is a fairly blunt tool. But, like democracy, it’s the best we’ve got but only as long as we stay on top of the ever ongoing battle to maintain competition. So Capitalism both requires and abhors strong regulatory government.

    In the elusive perfect world products from Capitalism would be available to well informed consumers who would select among multiple offerings based on utility and value.

    But over the decades the growth in the ubiquitousness of screens of all sizes has made shaded truth, advertising, more cost effective to corporations than designing and building in utility and value. And that tool of shaded truth has also become the go to for corporations to avoid regulation and thus manage competition.

    So the operative question is, in these days of ubiquitous professional misleading of both customers and regulators, is Capitalism still the best option?

    It seems so to me but like crime prevention the effectiveness of regulation has to stay well ahead of the effectiveness of counter regulation.

    Of course all of this is well known in the corporate world and it’s led to new weapons. Not only is shaded truth best for selling uncompetitive products and managing counter regulation but also for steering the public away from supporting effective government.

    This is what made Rupert Murdoch and Rush Limbaugh and many others wealthy almost beyond imagining.

    The collective mind of we the people is the most important driver of business and it can be at least leased through what used to be called brainwashing but now has been upscaled and euphemized as advertising.

    Can this assault on human dignity be managed?

    Clearly the first answer to that is that it hasn’t been yet. It’s the most powerful force on earth.

    IMO the path to controling it doesn’t go through the purveyors of it but rather through educating the public to be resistant to it. A vaccination approach. The public has to be as or more skilled in skeptical critical thinking than the brainwashers are in plying their craft.

    I see both progress and a long way to go.

  14. patmcc,

    “I recently found two devices at Verizon in Indy. One is a mobile “hot spot” device that costs 10.00 / month . ”

    A heads up about the Verizon ‘hot spot’ or any provider’s ‘hot spot’. Read the fine print and you might learn the $10 per month fee includes next to nothing in data usage. Plus it’s likely the ‘hot spot’ must be purchased by you. In other words, Verizon sells you the device at your local Verizon store, then charges you $10 per month whether you use it, stick it in a drawer, or never use it. Consider the ‘activation’ fee, also. From personal experience a few years ago, the advertised $10 hotspot routinely cost me over $150 per month because I actually used it. Data usage costs an arm and a leg.

    Read the fine print. Caveat emptor.

  15. Louie, “Bernie Sanders called Wall Street a fraud. Bernie called the campaign finance corrupt. America did not want to listen.”

    I for one disagree. America did listen and hear and enormous progress in the public mindset has resulted.

  16. Good advise BSH. Hotspot cellular modems can be the least expensive option for those who consistently consume very little data by today’s standards. That’s a relatively small percentage of us.

  17. One other point about hotspot cellular modems – almost all smart phones have the same hotspot capability built into them. In most cases you don’t need an additional piece of hardware.

  18. Pete, thanks for the additional reminder that smart phones, at least my iPhone, have ‘hot spot’ capabilities.

  19. A Chinese supercomputer built using domestic chip technology has been declared the world’s fastest. The news highlights China’s recent advances in the creation of such systems, as well the country’s waning reliance on US semiconductor technology.

    More significantly than its specs, though, is the fact that the TaihuLight is built from Chinese semiconductors. “It’s not based on an existing architecture. They built it themselves,” Jack Dongarra, a professor at the University of Tennessee and creator of the measurement system used to rank the world’s supercomputers, told Bloomberg. “This is a system that has Chinese processors.”

    MAJOR FOREIGN HOLDERS OF TREASURY SECURITIES (in billions of dollars) Mainland China is #1 with $ 1242.8, yes that is trillions of dollars.
    Trade Deficit with China 2015 – in millions $ 367,172.9. We have actually had a trade deficit with China since 1985.

    Capitalism in it’s current form is working just peachy for the 1%, but not so for American Workers. Go to your big box stores and virtually all electronics are manufactured in China. The clothing on your backs, and the shoes on your feet are all manufactured out of the USA.

  20. I think that it is interesting that the most prominently displayed feature on most global maps are the countries. But on photographs like those from the ISS, reality does not reveal any borders. They are prominent in our minds but irrelevant in reality.

    We are, like it or not, one diverse world, one people.

    We have to make that work.

    There are many self appointed masters among us. They are nothing special except to themselves. They, like borders, are abstractions, not reality.

    There have been times in our history when we were not one but many and could act independently. No more.

    With freedom comes prosperity but at the price of connectedness.

    We have created a world that fits our abstract thoughts, but are nothing more than bits of reality.

    What will mold the future are our collective actions. There is no “them”.

  21. Money is to politics as force is to reason and they both combinations produce bastard children.

  22. JoAnne: maybe you could put a power strip on a shelf that is easier for you to reach without needing to bend over, so you could just touch the switch to turn everything off, wait awhile and then turn everything on again.

  23. Pete,

    The ISS photos from outer space are magnificent in capturing the scope and the vastness of our planet. Aside from these photos presenting a glimpse of reality as measured from a distant viewpoint, perhaps we should also acknowledge the significance of viewpoint and distance when labeling anything reality or an abstraction.

    Consider the moment when these gifted photographers from ISS return to Earth, get their feet back on the ground, so to speak, they will enter full-time reality, a reality with geographical boundaries where they pay local, state, and federal taxes, where they make their full-time residences, enroll their children in geographically determined public schools, depend upon GPS devices to guide them from one location to another, devote the majority of their time and energy in addressing the reality needs of those folks who live in their local, state, and national boundaries.

    Attached is a WaPo link offering 40 maps that explain the world (according to WaPo). The first 39 maps are designed around those pesky boundaries as you mentioned. Map #40 is a fascinating NASA moving image, recorded by satellite over a full year, and shows the ebb and flow of the seasons and vegetation and does not attempt to extrapolate any abstract or philosophical meaning.

  24. BSH, very interesting, all of them.

    You’re right that there are realities associated with where folks are and are from. Some of them are the realities of physical earth and some are cultural. But in today’s and tomorrow’s world none are foreign, unknown, or mystical.

    I personally think that the reason to be optimistic about the future is that we’re slowly evolving to one race, one religion (none), one government.

    When that happens many of the reasons to impose suffering on others will go away.

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