Competition was never about protecting consumers.

I became suspect of the “competition protects consumer” narrative way back in 1987. In the spring of that year I started work part-time at a gas station. On the first day my manager explained to me how the gas station determined its gas prices. I told him I was under the impression that the station used some type of mathematical pricing formula ala what I learned in college as an economics major. “Bless” his heart. I can still see the look on his face when I laid that “what I learned in the classroom” nonsense on him. “No”, he said. “That’s not how you do it. What you do is each morning look across the street and see what the other station is charging and then change our prices to reflect theirs.”

It was a rude awakening for a 23-year old: that the theoretical stuff you learned as an undergrad was so much nonsense. That consumers of gas station fuel were being taken on a roller coaster ride of gas pricing based on what the gas station across the street was charging.

Of course, there are other factors that contribute to the changes in gasoline prices at the pump; the supply of oil, the price of a barrel of oil, decisions by oil supplying cartels, i.e. OPEC, the barriers to entering the local retail gas market, and regulations against price gouging. If local regulations allowed more retail gas operations to enter the market, in theory prices should fall. And if antitrust rules are enforced, retailers would be prohibited from acting in concert to raise prices. For the past 130 years this alleged consumer centric view of competition has dominated economic and legal thinking. As Americans left the farm and moved to the city, their self-reliance values were replaced by consumerist values. Americans became targets for a progressive philosophy that replaced self-reliance with the narrative of government protection. Trusts, large monopoly firms, had to be broken up to ensure that the emerging consumer class was not taken advantage of via high prices or low quality of services. “Competition” was to be the rallying cry.

But is competition as we know it today realistic or just a coopting of a term for political gain? What are firms really competing for and who does the promotion of competition actually benefit? In a corporate-capitalist system, analysis of any economic issue should begin with a question concerning the preferences of those holding capital. The entrepreneur and investor choose an activity that may result in increasing the amount of capital they hold at the end of the day. For the investor in particular she is concerned not primarily with consumer choice but with the ability of her capital to be placed and optimized in as many markets via as many opportunities as possible.

For the holder of capital, real competition is synonymous to the wealthy person in the Book of Matthew who gave his serfs a certain amount of talents and required that each one of them maximize returns on those talents. He wanted them to compete with each other like an episode from “The Highlander” with the victor receiving a portion of the returns in exchange for the labor they expended in generating those returns.

And the consumer’s role in this vendor competition? Simply, the consumer’s role is to be “coined.” Once the consumer gave up their willingness to be self-reliant, he put himself at the mercy of the entrepreneur and the investor. The consumer protection narrative is designed to ensure his comfort with exchanging personal and economic liberty with the convenience of having his needs provided by the capitalist. The illusion of choice makes him available for exploitation in the vendor competition scenario. The greater the number of consumers available for exploitation, the greater the opportunity for the entrepreneur to demonstrate to capital that it has the ability to maximize returns on and to capital. For the investor, this means that the larger the number of consumers, the more the market can be segmented and greater segmentation creates greater opportunities for creating monopolies within sub-markets. A monopoly structure leads, per microeconomic theory, to opportunities to increase prices. Contrary to the progressive narrative that a competitive market structure is the most desirable, a monopoly market structure is the ideal for entrepreneur and investor.

Consumer protection is valid only to the extent that it makes a buyer available for entrepreneur and investor exploitation. To limit the level of exploitation, the consumer should pursue self-reliance in as many areas of economic life as possible. It will require embracing more inconvenience in return for more peace and liberty.

Is America a socialist country? And if it is, so what?

Lawrence O’Donnell, host of MSNBC’s The Last Word appeared on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal this morning. One of the callers chastised him and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for supporting socialism. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez last week defeated Representative Joseph Crowley in the primaries for the 14th district. The 14th district is heavily Democratic, having favored Democratic presidential candidates all the way back to William J. Clinton. Sixty-one percent of the 14th district’s voter population is black or Latino. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is favored to win and Establishment Democrats are not too excited about a Bernie Sanders supporter (Ms. Ocasio-Cortez worked on Senator Sanders’ campaign) infiltrating the halls of Congress.

Republicans may see this single win as a virus that is about to spread through the Democratic Party and may position themselves as the cure. While Nancy Pelosi may express outwardly a lack of concern about a democratic socialist win in a single district, democratic socialism has attracted more attention since the November 2016 election as an alternative to a Democratic Party that has been enjoying a quarter of a century of corporatization.

No doubt Establishment Republicans are enjoying the schism being caused by a socialist insurgency, but I sense run-of-the mill conservatives within and outside the Republican Party like the C-SPAN caller are concerned that a seemingly increasing number of young people are moving toward socialist philosophy. Mr. O’Donnell adroitly addressed the caller’s vitriol arguing that the United States has a political economy that mixes certain aspects of market and centrally planned economies. Conservatives tend to focus on the anti-freedom approaches of socialism such as limited speech, and a lack of universal suffrage at the voting booth. They focus on the brutality of a socialist State toward dissidents, currency manipulation, and closed access to economic markets. They assume that socialism is the only top-down, lock down system on the planet.

They are wrong.

Just one look at America’s monetary system alone should tell a critical thinker that the economy of the United States is top-down and centrally planned. Most people do not issue their own currency. That job is for America’s central bank, the Federal Reserve. See mortgage rates going up and you can reasonably tie some action by the Fed to your pain. And while Republican members of Congress scream about free markets and alleviating the tax burdens of entrepreneurs, they add to the entrepreneur’s burdens by increasing budget deficits creating spending gaps that have to be filled by more borrowing which increases demand for loanable funds which leads to higher interest rates which leads to businesses facing increased barriers to entry into the credit markets. This is top down, centrally planned, oppressive economics in American form.

And let’s not forget our tax system. Talk about centrally planned. Have you ever been asked to give direct insight and opinion on whether your marginal tax rate or effective tax rate should be increased? Of course not. America’s version of the National People’s Congress does that, with the only difference between China’s legislative body and America’s is the frequency of meetings and the amount of checks they place on their executive.

Conservatives would argue that the American electoral system is indicative of an open democracy. That fallacy has been exposed twice in the past eighteen years where the “people’s choice” lost because a small body of unknown electors decided five weeks after a presidential election who the winner was and had that decision certified three weeks later by members of Congress. Top-down. Centrally planned.

Lastly, if Obamacare didn’t convince you that your healthcare finance system is centrally planned, then the history of Medicare should inform you as to the impact and influence the federal government has on the insurance industry. Medicare opened up two markets for the private insurance industry: the administrative services market, where private insurers invested in and provided the administrative infrastructure for serving an influx of newer patients, and underserved market of people over the age of 65 and medical insurance supplemental market, where insurance services gaps in Medicare are filled by private insurers. It is hard for conservatives to argue that the free market met these needs when on the contrary government action created the markets and the opportunity for private insurers to increase revenues.

You can probably find more examples, but the point here is that too many Americans express their lack of economic literacy when wailing about the ills of central planning. While I don’t want to give liberals credit for much, they do make a point when clarifying that the United States’ economy is a mixed one and expose the irony that many critics are likely enjoying some of these socialist programs themselves.

When asked to choose an “ism”, my response is either one, whether socialism or capitalism, represents top down suppression of individual choice because government exercises an inordinate amount of influence under either paradigm. The individual has no say in the crafting of policy in either framework. It is a take it or leave it scenario either way. The questions conservatives should be asking themselves is, can I create a better benefit for myself on my own terms?