Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What makes Big Business bad.

This blog has periodically discussed the threats to liberty and well-being posed by both Big Government and Big Business. Some well-meaning people on the left believe that Big Business is a threat and that Big Government is the cure to the problem. I disagree and will explain why here.

That a corporation is large poses, in and of itself, very little threat provided that is required to operated in a depolicitized environment. If, however, the marketplace is politicized through strings of regulations, controls, subsidies, taxes, etc., then the corporation has every incentive to use its size and wealth to buy political influence in order to skew the results in their favor. Considering that their competitors will be doing this as well any corporation would be stupid not to act in this manner.

But Big Business becomes a threat only to the degree that it can impose its will on people. And that can only be done through the use of Big Government. The real threat that corporations pose to liberty and well-being comes about precisely when well-meaning individuals increase the powers of government to turn competitive markets into politicized markets.

The ability of a corporation to impose its will on individuals is rather limited absent a large state apparatus capable of enforcing that will. Wal-Mart doesn’t have police agents able to prevent competition. But politicians can rig markets to prevent competition. Archer Daniels Midland can’t force you to buy their ethanol. But they can buy off politicians who pass laws forcing you to buy the ethanol, and, for good measure, pass laws handing some of you tax monies over to ADM in the form of subsidies for doing so.

In the real world Big Business is like Big Religion; in order to pose a real threat to the general public they need the cooperation of Big Government, otherwise they are relatively impotent.

Consider the largest Christian sect in the world: the Roman Catholic Church. It is officially antiabortion yet Catholics have abortions all the time. It is officially antigay but it can’t even stop priests from being gay. All the Catholic Church, or any religion, can do, absent government power, is threaten sinners with damnation. Most people ignore such threats because they have to real force in this world. Many deny the Church has any force in any world. What these sects need, in order to impose their theocratic desires upon others, is Big Government.

What Catholicism would love to do is use state power to ban abortion and thus impose its will on everyone. That is what the Catholic/Mormon alliance did with marriage equality for gay couples. They used state power to prevent gay couples from marrying.

Of course, there are times when a large corporation. or powerful local business. may actually violate the rights of people without access to government power. It might even have “enforcers” who impose the corporate will by force. But such incidents in history have been rare relative to the frequent and flagrant use of state power to kill, maim and destroy.

But when Business has acted this way the problem hasn’t been that government was too small. In many such cases government was simply corrupt and bought off. It failed to use legitimate state powers (that is powers that protect life, liberty and property) at the request of a criminal. If a rich man murders, and then pays off the cops to ignore, his crime, the problem isn’t that the police don’t have enough power but that they are corrupt. When government fails to protect real rights it is due, not to a lack of power, but to a lack of will.

Making government more powerful doesn’t solve this problem because the problem was never a lack of power. A government that can be bought off when it is small is one that can be corrupted when it is large. The difference is that the large government can inflict more harm on behalf of those who have purchased its powers. Making government more powerful thus doesn’t solve the problem but makes it worse. The ability to corrupt the political process doesn’t go away. If anything, the incentives to corrupt politics is now even greater.

It is more likely that a Big Government system would become corrupted. It is much easier to hide the corruption beneath a multiplicity of laws and regulations, agencies, departments and bureaucracies. When government refuses to prosecute a criminal that action is relatively transparent. A man kills another man, hands $1 million over the sheriff and isn’t prosecuted. People tend to know that the man bought off the government in order to escape justice. But the bureaucratic maze used by Big Business is so complex that it isn’t immediately, or easily, apparent when the process has been corrupted. Small nudges in one area or another can adequately skew the final result.

And often Big Business has used their sworn enemies as their most effective foot soldiers. Socialists hate Big Business. As such they are regularly used by Big Business to push through “reforms” which politicize the marketplace. Big Business lets the socialists push through the regulations and then the Corporations step in and use their political pull to write the regulations in such a way as to skew the market in their favor. Whatever they may say about their socialist enemies in public, in private they are thankful that they provided them another tool with which to rape the pocketbooks of the public.

Big Business is mainly a threat when coupled with Big Government. In the few cases where Big Business actually acts in a criminal way, absent Big Government, it only gets away with such crimes if the political process is corrupt. And giving a corrupt political system more power doesn’t end this problem but magnifies it.

On the other hand, Big Government is a threat in and of itself. It does not need Big Business in order to harm people. Big Business basically needs Big Government but Big Government doesn’t need Big Business as the Soviet Union proved. Governmental power is always coercive. And coercion is always a threat to life, liberty and property. It is coercion that turns sex into rape and a transfer of wealth into theft. Coercion can transform a moral act into an immoral one.

It is the existence of Big Government which acts as an incentive to attract special interest groups of which Big Business is only one. When government intervenes into various aspects of human life it politicizes those aspects and that creates conflict where previously it did not exist.

Consider a government with the power to determine shoe production. If the government decided it would regulate the size, make, and design of shoes there would be conflict over this matter. As it currently stands we walk into stores and pick among thousands of different kinds of shoes. Were government to regulate all these aspects we would have conflict. Some would want sneakers while others would want high heels. If one or the other is the choice then each group of consumers would have to fight the other groups to ensure that they get what they want. In the depoliticized market each is satisfied to a relatively large degree. But in politics it is often one size fits all regulations. There are winners and there are losers, markets expand the number of winners, politics reduces them..

This is clearly seen in government schooling. Instead of schools that reflect the diversity of parental desires the government education system is one-size-fits-all. If you don’t like abstinence education tough luck. If you don’t care for evolution, tough luck. The state sets the curriculum, hires the teachers, forces the children to attend, and then confiscates your wealth to pay for it. Across the board the education system lacks choice and thus it is a major area of conflict. We, who support sex education, have to fight the abstinence moralists. We, who support scientific evolution, have to fight creationist mythology. With market-oriented schools these conflicts tend to vanish. The market provides different schools for different families allowing both to pick what they prefer.

The political process creates conflict. It is inherent in the system. When government is limited to the defense of life, liberty and property this conflict is small, almost non-existent. Criminals would prefer the government give them free reign and their victims would prefer the government arrest the bastards. But that is pretty limited as only a few are one side with the bulk of the population on the other side. But as government powers expand these political conflicts spread into more and more areas.

The so-called “Culture War” in America is not a culture war but a political war. The conflict is almost exclusively limited to areas under state control. A totally private marriage system would end the war over gay marriage. (However, I don’t think that is currently possible given the plethora of laws that are directly linked to marriage--such as immigration, tax laws, judicial rights, etc.). If all those laws were repealed, and marriage privatized, no conflict would exist. We have private schools that teach abstinence and private schools with a realistic sex education program. Since neither is able to coerce students into attending the conflict is almost totally absent.

Just as government intervention into private morals, the arts and education has generated political conflicts that divide the nation, political intervention into markets does precisely the same thing. The ever-expanding conflict that rents our nation asunder is the direct result of the ever-expanding nature of state power.

Labels: , ,