Like most, I believe in democracy. But I also believe in capitalism, and though the two are usually seen in the West as a good fit, of late I'm having doubts. Every society has to use a system to organise production and consumption, and I know of none better than leaving it largely to private enterprise. For the most part, markets work well in bringing buyers and sellers together and satisfying their needs. Markets' reliance on people pursuing their own interests does a good job in encouraging efficiency and innovation.
The funny thing is, when capitalism is working well it's the capitalists themselves who get taken advantage of. They keep coming up with new ways of making a fortune - railways, electricity, motor cars, the telephone, radio, television, the internet - but in the end competition causes most of the start-up companies to go broke and leaves most of the benefit not with the capitalists but their customers. It comes in the form of access to affordable transport, power, entertainment or communication.
Of course, as the global financial crisis so painfully reminded us, markets are far from perfect and it's folly to leave them inadequately regulated. Markets are actually a creation of government, and governments have to continuously supervise them to ensure they don't run off the rails.
It's this need for continuous government involvement that can cause problems. Can we be sure government intervention is always aimed at benefiting customers rather than making life easier for the few big companies that dominate many of our markets?
Then there's democracy. What if it becomes too easy for capitalists to take advantage of the institutions of democracy to get the rules of the game bent in their favour? Of all the columns I wrote last year, the one that drew the biggest reaction was called The four business gangs that run America, quoting a book by Professor Jeffery Sachs of Columbia University. Sachs wrote that four key sectors of US business exemplified the takeover of political power in America by the ''corporatocracy'': the military-industrial complex, the Wall Street-Washington complex, the Big Oil-transport-military complex and the healthcare industry.
I ended the column by saying that ''fortunately, things aren't nearly so bad in Australia''. It's true, they're not. But, in a paper to be issued on Wednesday, Corporate power in Australia, by Dr Richard Denniss and David Richardson, of the Australia Institute, we're reminded that things here are far from ideal.
The authors argue that ''big business exerts influence through campaign contributions, influence over university funding, sponsorship of think tanks and in other ways''.
The four most disproportionately influential industries in Australia, they say, are superannuation, banking, mining and gambling.
Employers in Australia are required by law to remove 9 per cent of employees' pre-tax wages and deposit it in a superannuation account the employees can't touch until they retire. The industry has now persuaded the Labor government to gradually increase this to 12 per cent. Thus the government has compelled almost all employees to become the customers of a particular industry.
The average management fee paid by Australians with a retail super fund is about 2 per cent of their fund balance each year.
So someone with a balance of $100,000 is paying a fee of about $2000 a year, or nearly $40 a week. This is more than the average Australian pays for electricity. After the compulsory contribution rate is raised to 12 per cent, these annual fees will have increased by a third. To be fair, the government is working to oblige the super industry to give its captive customers a better deal. But it is encountering - and yielding to - much push-back from the industry.
According to the authors, our big four banks are among the eight most profitable banks in the world, with the International Monetary Fund saying we have the world's most profitable banking system.
Over the years, the big four have been allowed to acquire or merge with 15 of their rivals. The authorities continue to insist the industry is competitive. Since the global financial crisis, the big four's market share has risen from 74 per cent to 83 per cent, the authors say.
Both sides of politics profess to be highly disapproving when the banks seek to protect their profit margins by failing to pass on all of a cut in the official interest rate.
But the pollies rarely match their words with deeds. Their efforts to increase competition are quite timid and some measures actually make life easier for the banks.
Last year mining accounted for more than a fifth of all profit made in Australia, even though it had a much smaller share of the economy. This was mainly because the royalties charged by the state governments failed to capture enough of the market value of the minerals the largely foreign-owned miners were being permitted to extract.
When the Rudd government tried to correct this with a resource super profits tax, the industry set out to bring about its electoral defeat, Tony Abbott saw his chance and sided with the industry, and Julia Gillard backed off rapidly, settling for a new tax that seems to be raising little revenue. Gambling is a small industry, but incredibly lucrative, partly because it is tightly regulated. Whether it's the way the O'Farrell government is accommodating James Packer's ambition to expand in Sydney or the way Gillard welched on a written agreement with Andrew Wilkie under pressure from the licensed clubs, the industry's political power is apparent.
When politicians worry more about pleasing certain industries than about serving the people who elect them, we have a problem.
Ross Gittins is economics editor of Fairfax Media's The Sydney Morning Herald.