Modern-day American conservatives typically see government regulation as an outright assault on freedom. They also see inequality as inevitable in any “free” society. Any government that moves against inequality, they go on to assume and argue, will have to threaten freedom.
But these linkages, the insightful UK economic analyst Chris Dillow points out in a new commentary, don’t hold up. In fact, an annual freedom index published by the conservative Heritage Foundation has Denmark, one of the world’s most equal nations, ranking higher on “business freedom” than the United States, the developed world’s most unequal nation.
What’s going on here? For starters, Dillow notes, the really rich have no real interest in economic freedom. They care far more about shielding their monopoly power from competition. Red tape suits them fine, since red tape tends to burden small firms more than large ones.
People generally, Dillow adds, want to see fairness. If market forces aren’t delivering that fairness, “they’ll demand it via the ballot box in the form of state regulation.”
That dynamic, Dillow suggests, ought to make every “freedom-loving” conservative an advocate for stronger trade unions.
“If workers have the power to bargain for better wages and conditions and the real freedom to reject exploitative demands from bosses,” he explains, “then we’ll not need so much business regulation.”
“In this sense,” the British analyst sums up, “greater equality and cutting red tape go together.”
Sam Pizzigati edits Too Much, the Institute for Policy Studies online monthly on excess and inequality. His latest book: The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970 (Seven Stories Press).