This weekend’s big thought: people who say it’s “the free market” when it isn’t.

This is inspired by all the nuttiness going on in Washington, plus the fact someone mentioned the Anycountry Chamber of Commerce – Japan to me the other day in the context of Terrie Lloyd. When I start hearing too much about how “business” creates the jobs, it makes me want to puke, because when I actually research things, you always find government in the back, somehow, either as the one subsidizing the business or the one lining up the buyers.

The hard part is that the mouthpieces behind “free enterprise” so insult your intelligence. And mine. We have just come off a major financial crisis where the doers of the bad deed had to be bailed out, not for free but close to it, by the government. That is to say, by the rest of us. The government funnels billions of dollars every year, in government contracts, to Tea Party districts, where the people act like it’s their own talents that made the money happen. The money is moving all around, and the reason it is is because the government is there, taxing and spending.

They (i.e. these other people) are talking about default, even at this late hour. There are something like thirty billion in social security checks that go out on Wednesday, and another, similar sized amount that are dated for August 10. What would the impact on business be, if suddenly $60 billion in checks disappears? I have a hard time seeing how “the free market” is going to come up with that lost business. It’s purely government redistribution. It’s government-driven.

So I keep looking at this sort of thing: how much is it people’s own doing, and how much is it the government in there doing it with them? (Not necessarily for them, but with them.)

In the years like the 1940’s, ’50’s, ’60’s and ’70’s, people understood this very well in America. Around 1980, with Reagan, all these cute lies about how the government never creates a job or supports a tax base came into side conversation in our politics. (This, while the people who made it big had the government in there helping them out. They’d be mouthing this stuff from the porch of their mortgage-interest-subsidized house in the leafy suburb, down the road from the interstate highway built with government money.)

It’s a shame that stuff that is complete nonsense now seems to be front-and-center in Washington speechmaking about the deficit and spending. What we really needed was more stimulus spending to further juice the economy, especially after it’s recently been learned that the Recession was much deeper than the people measuring it had assumed.

I also thought about the military-industrial tribe of connected Americans in Tokyo, Japan. A lot of their “success” has to do with channels dug to get the money, the honey, flowing between America and Japan during the Cold War era. The Pacific Elite, as I have called them, sit in Tokyo and take from the honey pot, setting themselves up nicely, their children up nicely, and useful friends and cronies. They really aren’t making business happen. They simply are relying on tax breaks and government-funneled spending to assure that there is some American presence in Tokyo to help solidify the fact that we waste all that other tax money on military bases that aren’t necessary to protect us.

They are a pretend “skin in the game”, as if they are like the 50,000 soldiers stationed in South Korea. We, in turn, claim that America has “vital national interests” in Japan that we have to protect with our military. Japan lets in a little bit of our country’s business. Historically, I think this was also to steal technology and business process information off those companies; but also, to pretend that there is some sort of “free market” that goes on between the two countries, so that we just don’t shut off Japan’s Toyota and the like entirely.

But the root of it is all government policy. It’s to make like we have this close relationship with Japan, when, in fact, it’s really just a small amount of people who have this close relationship with Japan.

So where do these “international entrepreneurs” fit in? I can’t say for sure, but it’s starting to seem like their role is to validate the idea that Japan is open and that anyone of “the right fibre” can make it there. When you consider that so much of the exchange is English teachers, and that a lot of that money is coming from the Japanese government, the entrepreneurship is really more just being a lackey, or the gold prospector supplier, who sells other things, or sells the access, to young people who want to live in Japan. There is no “new” thing being created. Related to this, then, would be all the other products and services that you’d sell to the intermittent gaijin. But that “market” is really controlled by the Japanese government and the amount of money they’re willing to channel into education. Secondly, by the limited amount of money that Japanese have to spend on private education. (I am beginning to become convinced that second number is rather low.)

In the post March 11 atmosphere, where celebrated entrepreneurs are saying that business is very tight—when, in fact, most of the foreigner resident population is still right in place–it makes me wonder how much vitality there is in the “free market” expat community of Japan. Isn’t it really, that if the U.S. or Japanese government, in concert with the big, big international corporations, cut back on what they are spending towards the expat community of Japan, then a lot of this business simply goes poof?

When people talk about “free markets”, why is it never quite what it seems?