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When Free Enterprise Equals Corporate Welfare

The Romney Lexicon

by KEVIN CARSON

As Thomas L. Knapp observes in a recent column, Mitt Romney — famous for complaining about the 47% who expect to be taken care of — “whined that the Obama administration has been insufficiently charitable with ‘public’ land (and taxpayer money) toward the oil companies.”

He notes that “for every dollar a timber company paid in leasing fees, the US government spent $1.27 on road-building and other projects to enable the exploitation of those timber leases.” The same applies to oil drilling in places like the Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve: “the next time a natural resources extraction company offers to cover the entire cost of its own operations on ‘public’ land, let alone deliver a net profit to the US government on the deal, will be the first time.”

Extractive industries are among the biggest welfare queens in human history. Much — probably most — of the oil and mineral wealth of the planet is still in the hands of transnational corporate beneficiaries of centuries of colonial looting. Oil and mineral companies routinely use their pet states to politically guarantee access to mineral resources. Just look at the overthrow of Mossadeq in Iran — then read the Wikipedia article on BP. The politics of oil is the central factor in the slaughter of millions in the Congo, Zaire, and Angola since WWII. The same goes for the Suharto coup in Indonesia and the democide in East Timor. I think Shell actually has a Vice President for supervising death squad activity.

Most production of cash crops for corporate agribusiness, under the neoliberal “export-oriented development model” the Washington Consensus forces on the Third World, takes place on land from which peasants were either outright evicted, or reduced to at-will tenancy and then evicted, under colonialism or post-colonialism. The fastest way for a left-leaning regime to bring those “Washington Bullets” down on itself is to try putting that land back in the hands of its rightful owners — the peasants who originally cultivated it. Just ask Jacobo Arbenz.

It’s hilarious that self-described defenders of “free enterprise” like Mittens, who come down hardest on boondoggles like Solyndra, are also the biggest advocates of nuclear power and projects like the Keystone XL pipeline.

Nuclear power is the most extreme example of the phenomenon Tom Knapp described. Every step in the production chain, from the government building roads to the uranium mines on federal land to the disposal of nuclear waste at government expense — and the government indemnification against liability for meltdowns in between — is heavily subsidized by taxpayers.

As for Keystone, it’s just another example — although much smaller in scale and bloodshed — of the kind of corporate looting the fossil fuels industry carries out around the world. Never mind the fact that the extraction itself couldn’t take place in Alberta if government approval didn’t constitute a de facto indemnity, essentially preempting any potential tort action in the courts for harm from pollution.

The pipeline is being built on stolen land. From Montana to Oklahoma and Texas, TransCanada is using eminent domain to steal land — often falling afoul of treaty guarantees with Indian nations — and using local police and sheriffs as mercenaries in pitched battles against activists. Even when it crosses federal land, it amounts to a subsidy to the project. “Vacant” land — actually occupied by human beings with the legal liability of having brown skin — was originally preempted by the Spanish crown, passed into the hands of the Mexican Republic, and thence into the hands of the U.S. government via the Guadalupe-Hidalgo cession. The American state held all this land out of use, in blocs of tens and hundreds of millions of acres, so that it could eventually be handed over to favored timber, mining, oil and pipeline companies without the need to buy it up piecemeal from individual homesteaders, small forestry cooperatives and the like.

So now when you hear Mittens talk about “free enterprise,” you know what he means by it.

Kevin Carson is a senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society and holds the Center’s Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory.