All posts by Joel Schlosberg

Mr. Burns Needs Mr. Monopoly

Strawberry Donut
A donut exemplifies the deceptively simple products made available and affordable by market economics. Photo by Guigui575.

The Simpsons have gotten real.

The show’s title family closed its thirty-third season on May 22 with a lengthy sequence acknowledging what has long been pointed out: that the setup in which “Homer lives a comfortable life with his wife and three children and has a secure job at the [Springfield nuclear power] plant, despite his nonchalance, laziness and incompetence,” as James C. Wilson noted in 2015, strains plausibility even in a cartoon.

In the not-roaring economy of the 2020s, Bart Simpson would face even longer odds making a living as a performer than his creator beat making him one of the media icons of the 1990s. Lisa Simpson’s book smarts might get her through college, but not out of paying the ensuing debt.

The Simpson kids face that uncertain future while having access to consumer technology unimaginable at the time of their debut. Indeed, the plot of the season finale itself ensues from Marge Simpson streaming a British series at her leisure on the family’s living room TV, which has been upgraded from the clunky cathode ray tube box like the ones that picked up The Simpsons on the fifth of five channels in many real-life Springfields to a slick flatscreen offering a world of choices in crystal clear high definition.

The shift is explained to be the result of “rampant corporate greed, Wall Street malfeasance and the rise of shortsighted politics” by the Clinton administration’s Robert Reich. This is at odds with the show’s takes on wealthy business owners over the decades, which if anything have softened as Mr. Burns’s unrepentant miser has shared the screen with more charitable successors. Bill Gates went from smashing Homer’s startup in season 9’s “Das Bus” to being in the admittedly small Beloved Billionaires Club in season 32’s “Burger Kings.”

Reich declared in a May 21 Facebook post that “monopolies are only good for the monopolists.” It might have been awkward to note how the firms that dominated the middle of the 20th century could pursue long-term projects like Bell Labs, and offer long-term employment, via the same insulation from competition that made them big. Likewise, to reverse “the decline of unions” Reich should take heed of the advice of labor historians Jonathan Cutler and Thaddeus Russell that “when unions compete, workers win.”

The board game Monopoly originated from the insight of Henry George that monopolization of land rent could explain the paradoxical “increase of want with increase of wealth.” This analysis was extended to areas where monopoly was taken for granted by Bertrand Russell, who observed that “in labor disputes, the employer is the immediate enemy, but … the real enemy is the monopolist,” and Benjamin Tucker, who proposed alternatives to the “money monopoly” over a century before cryptocurrency.  Without Mr. Monopoly’s help, a business as small as Homer Simpson’s “Mr. Plow” snow-shoveling service can cut the economic power of Mr. Burns down to size.

New Yorker Joel Schlosberg is a senior news analyst at The William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism.


  1. “Mr. Burns Needs Mr. Monopoly” by Joel Schlosberg, CounterPunch, June 3, 2022
  2. “Mr. Burns Needs Mr. Monopoly” by Joel Schlosberg, The Lebanon [Indiana] Reporter, June 3, 2022

Abortion: Out of the Political Trap

Photo by Carolmooredc. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Quote from the first issue of Alexander Berkman’s The Blast. Photo by Carolmooredc. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Whether or not Roe v. Wade is overturned, it will be headed the way of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

The Supreme Court decision establishing a broad decriminalization of abortion throughout the United States has been unusually resilient for such a contentious subject. For nearly half a century, the verdict seemed as settled as any could be in American politics, with those favoring greater restrictions content to limit access de facto, rather than risk pushback against drastic changes to what is allowed de jure.

Yet the legal status of such a controversial topic remaining stable for such a period of time was the exception, not the rule.  Beneath the long detente lay decades “of compromising, and dickering, and trying to keep what was as it was, and to hand sops to both sides when new conditions demanded that something be done, or be pretended to be done” — words written more than half a century before Roe, about the issue of slavery.

Essayist Voltairine de Cleyre noted that political compromise set the stage for clashes between opposing camps, regardless of what the laws were on paper. Abolitionists pressed not only against slave owners, but those who thought that slavery  “was probably a mistake” but “were in no great ferment of anxiety to have it abolished.”

It’s particularly ironic that advocates of family planning have forgotten de Cleyre’s reminder of how things can get done by individuals or groups in voluntary association “without going to external authorities to please do the thing for them.”

Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger got the idea from de Cleyre’s anarchist comrade Emma Goldman. Yet as Goldman biographer Richard Drinnon observed, Sanger “guided the movement into respectably conservative channels by emphasizing the need for legislation which would give doctors, and doctors only, the right to impart contraceptive information.”

Sanger had joined with de Cleyre and Goldman not only in promoting personal autonomy for women, but for children between birth and adulthood in Modern Schools.  Yet Sanger ceded to the state the very power over reproductive health she had wrested from private patriarchs, viewing “the personal liberty of the individual” in that realm as “unrestricted and irresponsible.”  Her successors have insisted that organizations like Planned Parenthood can only function with government subsidies — while minimizing the fraction of funds going directly to abortion!

Once again,  as de Cleyre put it, “the direct actionists on both sides” will “fight it out” in contested territory, which this time spans the entire country.  The collapse of consensus will unleash plenty of acrimony, but “pro-choice” and “pro-life” partisans may as well drop the pretense that the government is either.

New Yorker Joel Schlosberg is a senior news analyst at The William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism.


  1. “Abortion: Out Of The Political Trap” by Joel Schlosberg, Ventura County, California Citizens Journal, May 9, 2022
  2. “Abortion: Out of the Political Trap” by Joel Schlosberg, CounterPunch, May 10, 2022
  3. “Abortion: Out of the political trap” by Joel Schlosberg, Miles City, Montana Star, May 10, 2022
  4. “Abortion: Out of the political trap” by Joel Schlosberg, Creston, Iowa News Advertiser, May 11, 2022

The Ghost of the Mother of Trusts

Butler Library (Columbia University)
The architecture of Columbia University towers over its students and faculty but not their individual initiative. Public domain.

The 94th Academy Awards ceremony on March 27 saw misunderstanding erupt into an acrimonious conflict: The battle of the ghosts of Reitman, Reagan, Ramis, and Roosevelt.

Bill Murray paid tribute to the memory of Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman, while the Academy also marked the 15th anniversary of Jason Reitman’s Juno. The junior Reitman recently directed a Ghostbusters sequel in which generations joined forces to commemorate Murray’s departed fellow Ghostbuster Harold Ramis.

Meanwhile, four Oscar nominations yielded zero wins for Don’t Look Up, in which the world is endangered rather than saved by private enterprise out-muscling the state during a crisis.  The parallels between its villains and the Ghostbusters is no coincidence, since co-writer David Sirota’s book Back to Our Future is admittedly inspired by what the Bernie Sanders speechwriter considers a nefarious undermining of trust in government by such 1980s heroes.

Sirota views American popular culture as so dominated by Reagan-era renegades that citizens are blinded to the beneficence of public service.  Yet partisans on both sides of the aisle were happy to seize on the iconography of “busting” ever since Ghostbusters ruled the 1984 box office.  That year’s presidential election featured dueling “Fritzbusters” and “Reaganbusters” takeoffs on the iconic anti-ghost logo. Each advocated the other candidate as a substitute rather than a downsizing of the presidential power available to either.

Ghostbusters imagery has even been retrofitted to previous administrations, with the 1990s educational TV show Histeria! providing trustbuster Theodore Roosevelt with an off-brand proton pack to blast corporate piggery.  The overpowering of Main Street by Wall Street is treated as a natural result of market consolidation, as if Reagan’s chimpanzee costar Bonzo matured into King Kong.

Gabriel Kolko observed that the Progressive Era was in fact marked by “intense and growing competition” outpacing the “economic expansion and … greater internal concentration of capital” of the largest companies, whose owners welcomed regulation burdening smaller upstarts more than themselves. Free traders of the time called protectionist policy that sheltered domestic firms from foreign competitors “the mother of trusts.”

Kolko led a generation of historians to rediscover how supposed archenemies big business and big government actively encouraged the development of each other, as if Beowulf monsters Grendel and Grendel’s mother reproduced in a continuous chicken-and-egg cycle.  Severing the apron strings that connect the two would cut both Walter Peck-style bureaucracy and Gordon Gekko-style plutocracy down to size.

New Yorker Joel Schlosberg is a senior news analyst at The William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism.


  1. “The ghost of the mother of trusts” by Joel Schlosberg, Miles CIty, Montana Star, March 31, 2022
  2. “The Ghost of the Mother of Trusts” by Joel Schlosberg, CounterPunch, April 1, 2022
  3. “The ghost of the mother of trusts” by Joel Schlosberg, The Daily Star [Hammond, Louisiana], April 2, 2022
  4. “The Ghost Of The Mother Of Trusts” by Joel Schlosberg, Ventura County, California Citizens Journal, April 2, 2022