Over the past decade in particular but for some time before that there has been an increasing movement to protect the powerful in our society at the expense of the common people. This movement has accelerated dramatically in the past year at least in part because of the Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case that essentially freed corporate interests to spend as much as they want on political campaigns while individuals remain shackled by campaign finance laws.
We can see the initial effects in places like Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan where newly elected republican governors and legislatures have moved rapidly to bring in legislation to strip public sector employees of collective bargaining rights and here in Michigan to dissolve local governments and school boards and replace them with private sector “emergency financial managers.”
However, the problem goes well beyond that into many other sectors of society. For example a company called Medical Justice that aims to protect doctors from frivolous malpractice suits sells them contracts that they can use with their patients. Doctors using these contracts force patients to sign them before providing treatment. These contracts are meant to provide a shield for the doctors from public reviews of their work. According to these “anti-defamation” contracts patients can either be prohibited from posting online reviews of their doctors or the doctors are given the right to edit or delete online postings from patients.
While bogus reviews from disgruntled employees or others with a grudge are always a potential problem, no such contract will do anything to stop it. Anyone can set up a blog or go on Facebook, Twitter or some other site and make negative comments. Doctors are ill-served by paying for such contracts and any patient presented with one should refuse to sign and go find another doctor. If a doctor is truly providing bad service the public should know about it and the doctor should either improve or go out of business. DoctoredReviews.com has an excellent response to this whole subject.
Another prime example of the powerful trying to gag the ordinary is pointed out by Seth Godin. In Iowa the legislature is moving forward with a law that would make it illegal to record activities at industrial farming operations without the owners consent. The reality is that many of these operations treat animals very poorly in the pursuit of higher profit margins. While there is nothing wrong in general with profit, the food produced by these farms is often of lower quality (taste and nutritional value) and more susceptible to contamination from pathogens like e-coli.
When public health is at risk, the idea of government banning anyone from showing what goes on these facilities is extremely troubling but unfortunately entirely consistent with politicians that have been funded by the wealthy and powerful.
Godin goes on to explain that public transparency is almost invariably better for business than gagging the public. Republicans like to go on and on about protecting free markets, but they really only care about one side of the equation. A truly free market requires that both buyers and sellers be informed about the true value of a product and be aware the total supply and demand. Without this knowledge, one side can easily manipulate the other to their own benefit and that is never a good thing for the long-term health of a market or a society.
Regardless of whether the market is for medical services, chicken or labor, both sides of the supply demand equation must be educated and free to take their products/services or money elsewhere.