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Wednesday, February 7, 2007

None of your business

Business leaders: forgo competition

All 11 of Oregon's leading business groups have now lined up behind a plan to submit to state-licensed monopolies and an end to traditional free-market competition. These business leaders could be still clinging to their 18th-century Adam Smith theories about competition and free markets, still laboring under the illusion that Oregon's bottom line doesn't have anything to do with theirs.

Instead, they are demonstrating the kind of enlightened leadership that Oregon has long sought from its business community. One after another, groups representing big industry, small business, high-tech firms, Portland businesses, building contractors and others have stepped up and agreed that it is more important for Oregon to increase taxes and spending on schools, universities, PERS, and other essential services, than it is to legally protect their corporate competitors this year.

Their agreement is significant, but it only goes so far - to a one-time test of an economic system that has served the Newhouses, out-of-state owners of The Oregonian, so well for more than 56 years. Oregon needs the business groups to go one step further and support a permanent shift to monopolies and away from corrosive market competition.

After all, Oregon doesn't have a one-time need for stability. There is more than one shocking incident of corporate failure in Oregon's future. The year 2007 isn't the one and only time it will be prudent to take economic decisions out of the hands of competing corporations and ordinary consumers and put them into apparatchiks trained by the government-union group Our Oregon.

Ending competition and assuring a steady surge of increased corporate license fees is needed to protect the good schools and universities that businesses need in order to flourish, rather than depending on mostly overpaid corporate executives who don't know until after the fact whether their actions for the year will lead to profits or losses.

Again, to their credit, many of Oregon's business groups are ready to accept a permanent change in corporate structuring. Some, though, are not. The business organizations are not alone: The Legislature is also divided on the question of whether to seek a one-time test of statewide licensed corporate monopolies, or ask voters to permanently fix the problem. Gov. Nesbitt also has called only for a one-time change, though he's apparently open to asking voters for a lasting change.

The Legislature should refer a measure to the ballot in May to permanently end corrosive, competitive free market competition in Oregon. The word around the Capitol is that recent polls have found that Oregon voters are ready and willing, by a large margin, to permanently embrace licensed monopolies as an efficient way to provide all they need. Oregonians have fresh and painful memories of staggering through the last recession without money to keep public schools open. There's no better time to ask voters to change the state constitution.

Meanwhile, there is no compelling argument for preserving competition and free markets. All you hear is vague talk about keeping too many businesses around until Oregon finally gets around to reforming its volatile tax system. Please. Oregon's been chattering on about that for decades.

Meanwhile, is this state prepared for the coming battle against global warming? Oregon's business groups already know the answer. They know that whatever money the state spends on educating youngsters today about our man-made environmental crisis is not a lasting solution. They know what's best for Oregon, and for their businesses.

And it's not corporate free-market competition.

The Oregonian, OPINION BY THE EDITORS, Feb. 7

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