The claim that the economy is somehow “rigged,” structured in a way that denies everyone the ability to thrive, is common.
As Will Wilkinson explains on Vox, the standard approach, to blame the wealthiest for bribing government to exploit the poor, is wrong:
The story of how the economy gets rigged is therefore a bunch of homely little stories of people with nice watches screwing over people with less-nice watches. But it’s not class war. It’s not the mega rich against the rest of us. It’s insiders seeking and then protecting special privileges that give them a leg up.
Dentists rig the system against dental hygienists by working to make it illegal for hygienists to clean teeth without totally unnecessary supervision by dentists. Taxi medallion oligopolists rig the system against regular folks with cars who would like turn a buck giving people rides.
Wilkinson in particular points to the issue of occupational licences:
About 30 percent of all jobs in the United States today require some sort of occupational license, up from 5 percent in the early 1950s. This rather dramatic shift is evidence that the economy has indeed become increasingly rigged — which is really just another word for “regulated.”
As well as restrictions on economic freedom:
But the rigging of the economy is not just the story of occupational licensing. It’s also the story of big-city gentrifiers who block construction projects that would reduce the cost of housing by expanding its supply, which has the effect of rigging the economy against workers who can no longer afford to live where the best jobs are.
It’s the story of petty restrictions on the freedom to buy and sell — to commit “capitalist acts between consenting adults,” as the philosopher Robert Nozick once put it — which deny dignity and safety to those who work on the margins of the economy.