OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Free market? What’s that?

It wasn't the atrocity of the day. It didn't even make the front page.

What adorned the top right corner of Page One was another of those laws about relieving yourself in the assigned bathroom according to your private parts at birth.

Its winning margin was delivered by hammering the point that Arkansas does not like or approve of gender-confused youth.

In another year, a bigger headline would have gone atop the article in the middle of the Arkansas page. It was about the state Senate passing a bill to concern state government less with the health of retirement funds for public employees than with the politics of the people doing the investing.

The issue was whether those investments would continue to be made--newly by statute--in yesterday's energy sources and today's and tomorrow's guns and ammunition, because of their prominence and popularity in Arkansas regardless of whether they were the likeliest best-performing investments.

Pollute and shoot--it's the Arkansas investment philosophy.

Here's how all this came up: Some financial institutions that handle retirement investments have begun pushing a social and environmental agenda within a context of trying to maximize earnings. They began investing in politically progressive firms that portend growth more than in--or rather than in--companies that themselves pollute or make firearms and bullets and may not portend as much growth.

Certain old-energy conglomerates--the Koch empire, for example--set out with admirable patience on a scheme to counter the federal government with a state-by-state initiative among willing right-wing states.

They underwrote a supposed nonpartisan but arch-conservative outfit called the American Legislative Exchange Council. These special-interest underwriters then deployed the organization to begin to build market protections for themselves one at time among pliable conservative state legislatures.

Those would be the conservative states with old-energy economies, gun idolatry and generally poor rankings in education and economic strength and diversity.

Arkansas, in other words. And a few others like West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Oklahoma and maybe Idaho or a Dakota.

ALEC throws regular confabs for pliable state legislative attendees. The Arkansas General Assembly is always well-represented on the taxpayer tab.

At these confabs, ALEC distributes models of proposed bills that the affected industries have helped draft.

One such bill, around now for a few years, provides that state legislatures would tell their state treasurers and retirement fund managers that they could not put money in any banks that practice this so-called "woke" politics of emphasizing the environment and the future rather than protecting the past and the infamously thriving gun culture.

A half-dozen or more of the more backward states have such laws. Another half-dozen have forms in the works.

Arkansas finally is shed of dirty moderates and pragmatists (Asa Hutchinson) and is ripe for the bill the Senate passed Monday. It authorized and tacitly directed retirement system officials to squander potential millions by disallowing progressive investments and mandating lower-performing culturally conservative ones based in the state.

Those particulars will depend on State Treasurer Mark Lowery and others coming up with a banishment list of these "woke offenders" of Wall Street. Lowery's personal experience with two bankruptcies perhaps prepares him for weakening the earnings of retirement funds of thousands of Arkansas public employees.

Through it all, one finds himself longing for old-style business Republicans who believed in, and adhered to, the principle of letting the market rule, with the strong surviving and the weak not, rather than regulating and manipulating the market artificially, especially, one would suspect, based on irrelevant or self-punishing cultural grievances.

Investments are supposed to be based on informed opinions about the future, not used to prop up the past or protect the status quo or the locally powerful.

Kudos are due three Senate Republicans--Jonathan Dismang, Jimmy Hickey and Jane English--who voted "no."

And, of course, usual good words are due the sighing, beleaguered and never-resigned Democratic state senator from Little Rock, Clarke Tucker.

He strolled per usual to the well of the Senate to utter the unwelcome and ignored truth that the bill was reckless, destructive, unfair to public employees and directly contradictory to long-spewed Republican gospel about the free market.

Being right can get so tiring.

The bill had already passed the House. What the Senate passed was actually watered down to be less alarming to people informed and reasonable on the issue. It was to have been considered as amended Wednesday afternoon in the House.

From there it would zip to the governor's office and Sarah Sanders' rapid signature, perhaps warranting one of those statements on how she was so pleased to have turned back liberal woke banking at the state line.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected]. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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