When Judge Richard Posner, the prolific conservative intellectual, released his book "A Failure of Capitalism: The Crisis of '08 and the Descent Into Depression" last year, you might have thought the final verdict was in: Capitalism caused the economic downturn and high unemployment.
That this verdict was pronounced by someone like Posner, who is associated with the University of Chicago and the free-market law and economics movement, gave moral support to all the politicians who were intent on exploiting the recession (as they exploit all crises) to increase government control of the economy.
But what exactly is this "capitalism" that is blamed?
The word "capitalism" is used in two contradictory ways. Sometimes it's used to mean the free market, or laissez faire. Other times it's used to mean today's government-guided economy. Logically, "capitalism" can't be both things. Either markets are free or government controls them. We can't have it both ways.
The truth is that we don't have a free market -- government regulation and management are pervasive -- so it's misleading to say that "capitalism" caused today's problems. The free market is innocent.
But it's fair to say that crony capitalism created the economic mess.
Crony capitalism, by the way, will be the subject of my TV show this week on the Fox Business Network (Thursday at 8 p.m. Eastern; Friday at 10).
What is crony capitalism? It's the economic system in which the marketplace is substantially shaped by a cozy relationship among government, big business and big labor. Under crony capitalism, government bestows a variety of privileges that are simply unattainable in the free market, including import restrictions, bailouts, subsidies and loan guarantees.
Crony capitalism is as old as the republic itself. Congress' first act in 1789 -- on July 4, no less! -- was a tariff on foreign goods to protect influential domestic business interests.
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