“I feel like if people don’t know that condoms have expiration dates, they probably don’t know that crony capitalism is bad!” This somewhat pessimistic picture of the average American University student was offered up during a tabling event this past Tuesday when AU Students for Liberty passed out Halloween candygrams to bring attention to the difference between cronyism and truly free markets. She had a good point: the important distinction between corporatism and capitalism isn’t clear enough to the average student. And while I’m not suggesting that libertarians should make an effort to inform students about proper condom use (I’m pretty sure this is in some other organization’s purview), I think we can help with the capitalism part quite a bit.
As a movement, we have been hemming and hawing quite a bit over this “occupy” business that has unfolded over the past several weeks. It seems we’re all starting to come around to a sort of general consensus now on the issue. It makes sense that people are frustrated with the system and want to lash out. Their concerns are legitimate, although the way they express them can be described as both ridiculous and inspiring. From a pro-markets perspective, the demonization of business, wealth, and the profit motive can be infuriating. At the same time, their demonization of crony capitalism makes perfect sense. The answer to the question of how libertarians should react has been piecemeal. From Moriah Costa and ASU’s trip to Occupy Phoenix with Morality of Capitalism books in hand, to the interviews a few of us did here in DC, to the anarcho-capitalist contingent representing in Philadelphia, we’ve all had different approaches to the growing dissatisfaction among American youth. One line that has come up time and again is the idea that crony capitalism is not the same as a free market.
Enter marketing! One slogan that worked really well here at American University was “Crony Capitalism = Phony Capitalism!” We wanted to draw attention to the preferential treatment of some corporations by government. So, AU Students For Liberty gave out a few favors of our own. To draw attention to the issue and educate students about the difference between cronyism and free markets, we passed out Halloween candygrams with fliers explaining the difference and chatted with students all over campus. We explained how government often gives “favors” to corporations, disrupting the market, artificially supporting industries, and most destructively picking the “winners” and “losers” in a way that we all recognize instinctually as being unfair. We tried to explain that the huge injustices in the current American economy can almost always be traced back to these government policies of intervention and intrusion. We talked to hundreds of students, many of whom had actually never heard a good definition of crony capitalism. We started by asking students if they knew the difference, and I was actually shocked by how many didn’t even know the term “crony capitalism” or “cronyism.” They’d just always called that capitalism. After chatting for a few moments, almost everyone we talked to started to recognize that maybe the problem here isn’t business itself, or the profit motive, but something a bit more sinister, in fact, fairly frightening!
This recent video sums it up pretty nicely:
We had a lot of success with this event and reached out to a lot of students who we normally wouldn’t interact with. We plan on doing something similar around Valentine’s Day with love letters between big government and big business, stressing the fact that in this unholy union we all pay for the dates!