I hate to say I told you so, but the incident at United Airlines a couple of weeks ago was bound to happen because of the obsession too many of our politicians have for deregulation.
Despite the claims by those purists of capitalism that everything works better if the government (that is, of course, the people) just stays out of the way, the truth is that giving free rein to corporate America has always been a bad idea.
Those self-important financial kingpins and their political lackeys who profess that regulations are bad for business — and, as a result, bad for ordinary working Americans — either are oblivious to the country's history or among the most naive people on the planet.
I mean, how many times do we have to go through a Great Depression and Great Recession, or deal with savings and loans scandals and banking frauds, or endure investment schemes and predatory business practices before we realize that corporate America without regulation can't be trusted?
It's always been said that Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal was aimed at saving capitalist America from itself by making it illegal for banks to act without restraint or corporations to do as they please with powerless public consumers. Yet our corporate-bought politicians have constantly swallowed the argument that deregulation will benefit us all.
Over the years, I've written several columns on what airline deregulation, paradoxically accomplished by the Jimmy Carter administration, has meant to airline passengers. Regulation had been a good thing. It required that in return for landing plum routes between U.S. cities, airlines had to serve marginal cities as well, even if it meant losing a few bucks. Among several other provisions, it dictated a minimum of service that airlines had to provide and gave passengers the right to be reimbursed when things went wrong.
But, we were told, this was stifling competition and artificially inflating fares. And the free market purists won. Government was to keep its hands off the airlines and let good, old American capitalism work its wonders.
At first, it worked. Suddenly, new airlines were founded, offering lower fares. Airlines like the old Midwest Express here in Wisconsin, still in my book the best airline ever, began offering extra amenities, hot, flavorful meals and that warm, melting chocolate chip cookie for desert.
It was all short-lived, however. All the competition that deregulation promised to spawn quickly gave way to what so often happens in our so-called free market. Bigger airlines bought other bigger airlines. And now suddenly all that competition has given way to a handful of unregulated corporate giants. Passengers no longer have rights, only the airline corporations do.
What you wind up with, of course, is a soulless United Airlines that can treat passengers as they want. The customer is no longer the focus, only the corporate bottom line and the stockholders are.
Tell me again how deregulation makes things better.
Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @DaveZweifel
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