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This is Forbes magazine?

Michael Moore

Surely, there’s some biblical prophecy about what happens when Forbes magazine (mostly) agrees with Michael Moore.

In response to Michael Moore’s new film, Capitalism: A Love Story, the editors of Forbes have responded with a piece titled “The Whole Point of Capitalism.” So far, nothing unexpected or surprising from a magazine whose cover story during the height of the downturn was “How Capitalsm Will Save Us.” However, in a magazine famous for its uncritical cheerleading of everything corporate, capitalistic, and affluent, you may think Starbucks has laced your frappucino with a whopping dose of mescaline by the time you hit the third paragraph. Yes, this is Forbes, and a Forbes editor, writing things like:

In practicing what we call capitalism, America has recently been missing the point. Our current system isn’t eliminating scarcity and poverty; it’s causing scarcity for most people and delivering extreme prosperity to a powerful minority. More than 85% of the financial wealth of the U.S. is held by 20% of the population . . .

Wait, you say. I didn’t read that right. Read on . . .

We overwhelmingly support unequal outcomes so long as there’s something resembling a fair (but not level) playing field. We’re fine with rich kids having material and social advantages over poor kids. We just ask that the game not be actively rigged against people. . . .

But our laws aren’t applied equally or fairly.

Now’s the time to check that frappucino. But Forbes is just getting started . . .

But banks are special, say our bankers and regulators. No. They’re just large and well connected. You don’t need to be a bank to be special to the government. Just ask an oil company. The first modern corporate recipient of a government bailout was Lockheed Martin ( LMT – news – people )–its executives argued that its solvency was vital to America’s security. There’s always some argument to be made if the bailout recipient has the right connections.

Small businesses and individuals are fully subject to the harshest aspects of capitalism while large businesses are exempt. So long as that’s true, capitalism cannot fulfill its promise. Global economic production keeps growing, but it can’t grow fast enough to eliminate scarcity if the fruits of all that production flow straight to a few large corporate dinosaurs. Big companies are the problem.

The multinational corporation is an inefficient and often callous bureaucracy that serves only to perpetuate itself and hoard resources.

Check that byline again. Yep, this is Forbes’ editor of Markets and Intelligent Investing. And, trust me, he’s just getting started . . .

Some take Moore’s own financial success as irony. I see it as hopeful. We need more Michael Moores. But we don’t get them in a system where, say, the telecom, television and radio industries are difficult to disrupt because only the largest companies can afford access to a spectrum that’s supposed to be held in the public trust. Or in a system where dead peasant insurance policies stay legal because congressional representatives care more about what the industries that use them think than about what people think. This is a system where the government’s attempt to inspire the creation of fuel-efficient vehicles results in the largest loan ($6 billion) going to Ford, the biggest and politically connected company that has failed at the task for decades.

Much of this, of course, is fully in line with Forbes’ adamant and immovable opposition to the bank bailouts of the Bush and Obama administrations (more Bush than Obama, I’m afraid).

But, it seems, I have lived to see Forbes making the same argument Michael Moore is making. And, I confess, I don’t know where to start.

Three years ago, I began drafting a book tentatively titled “Liberal Markets,” my stab at a liberal vision of free markets. I managed to acquire a major-house publisher but they backed out as the recession began to heat up (and, of course, the market for the book became larger). So I wrote Shoestring Venture instead.

One of the main points of my book on liberal markets is that there is one thing that both all liberals and all conservative are in agreement: markets should not be totally free. We all, conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, agree on this one fundamental point. We disagree only on where and what the constraints, limitations, and regulations on markets should be, although, in reality, both conservatives and liberals (and centrists) agree on more than they disagree on. Conservatives? Don’t believe in free markets. You betcha, despite all the talk about free markets, conservatives all for stepping in and regulating or even shutting down free markets. For instance, many conservatives would love to ban pornography (in other words, they oppose free markets in pornography — and if you ever want to meet a real, Ayn Rand type of entrepreneur, you should meet a pornographer). They want to keep drugs and prostitution illegal (as do almost all liberals, but, again, this means they’re opposed to unrestricted free markets in sex and drugs). They want to restrict medical care delivery to physicians (because letting just anyone hang out a medical shingle would mean a lot of people would get hurt). And so on.

There’s really no such thing as a person who truly believes in an unregulated free market except, perhaps, the most extreme libertarians who support legalizing drugs, prostitution, pornography, and so on. But even these free market “totallers” (as I call them) would draw the line at a free market in child pornography, say. And I’ve yet to meet a totaller that has a serious ideological problem with restricting or not allowing alcohol, pornography, or cigarette sales to children, although some of these “totallers” do think that parents, if they saw fit, should be allowed to give their children pornography, cigarettes, or alcohol — even drugs.

But “totallers” are a rare species of crazy bird.

In other words, political ideologues of all stripes agree that our collective notions of right and wrong need to inform and restrict at least some of our economic behaviors.

And we have much to agree on, conservatives and liberals, on what is right and wrong, what is good and bad, what should be encouraged and what should be discouraged.

But instead of dialogue, we have Tea Parties and Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.

What’s positively stunning about the Forbes piece is that its writer, Michael Maiello, takes “right and wrong” as his starting point — economics, he states baldly, should be a subset of moral philosophy, as it was for folks like Adam Smith and Karl Marx. In other words, economics is about right and wrong.

And, in that one respect at least, he is in complete and total agreement with Michael Moore. So, instead of trashing Moore, he agrees with him, but from a totally opposite world view.

Funny, that.

That’s how dialogue starts. Which, as a young and impressionable boy growing up in the Midwest, was how I was taught to behave as an adult.

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