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The Dick Parsons Project

US Capitol Building with cash
US Capitol Building with cash

In the whacky wonderful world of capitalism, money and success flow to the people who create the most value. That's the theory—and while it isn't a perfect system on its own, things go downhill in a hurry when government gets involved.

That's the premise set forth by Tim Carney, who writes for The Washington Examiner, about the kinds of distortions that arise when government intervenes in the fundamental structure of markets.

Moreover, Carney's criticism of 'government' isn't easily dismissed as partisan squabbling.

To wit: "As Bush's bailouts and Obama's subsidizing and regulating increase the role of government in the economy, they also change the values assigned to different skill sets. The changes are subtle, but the net effect is this: Denigrated is the skill of figuring out better ways to give consumers what they want; Rewarded is the ability to manipulate the political process."

Those are the broad strokes. Carney fills in the details using Dick Parsons, the Chairman of Citigroup as an object lesson. He picks up on a profile of Parsons' written by Bess Levin at DealBreaker:

"He’s an old-fashioned fixer who works the system with people skills and political connections. Parsons has spent a good chunk of his professional life assuaging furious employees, aggrieved shareholders, and frustrated regulators. His success is a reminder that, as much as we celebrate creativity and innovation in business, the schmoozer abides."

To which Carney adds:

"Now, schmoozing is always valuable, but as government becomes more powerful, lobbying becomes more valuable—and schmoozing becomes more important relative to 'creativity and innovation.' That divorces profit from the creation of valuable things, thus hurting society."

And, once again from Levin, on the nature of Parsons' relationships with senior government officials:

"Parsons had a chummy relationship with the Treasury Secretary. 'Timmy Geithner would say, "Call me directly, because this is too important an institution to go down,"' Parsons says. According to the Treasury Secretary’s schedule, available online, Geithner spoke frequently with Parsons in 2009."

All of which leads Carney to the following conclusion: "Dick Parsons is probably a great guy. But consider the fact that Obama, by increasing government intervention in the economy, is making more of these guys, and fewer innovators."

Yep.

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