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Sunday, December 31, 2017

Corporations and the American Dream

Libertarians, the political teenagers who want to have their cake and eat it too, always complain about government over-regulation and the imposition of other people's values. "We should have the right to live as we please, without government interference!" they cry. "Enough of government regulation!"

But the absurdity of their position is apparent after a moment's thought. The government "over-regulates" - what a judgemental word! Doesn't that word impose libertarian values on others, wherein some random libertarian gets to determine what counts as 'over-regulation'? And what if large corporations WANT a lot of regulations? Shouldn't it be their right to try to get those regulations in place if they want them?

The corporate-government nexus is a revolving door. Corporations donate their executives to government and draw their executives from government. Corporations write and pay for the implementation of laws that will protect their businesses from competition. "Government" is just the word we use for corporations working together to protect their respective turfs. "Big"  government and "over-regulation" is a natural result of a free market in which some people do MUCH better than others, and want to keep it that way. Has it never occurred to anyone that using words like "crony capitalism" and "over-regulation" is just as much an imposition of values on everyone as insisting on income equality is?

And this is another point that libertarians don't quite understand. They argue that income inequality is good. They are correct. Yes, it is demonstrably true that income inequality has been associated with the largest improvement of the world's general welfare in human history. Consider: in 1800, everyone was equally poor. No matter how much money you had, you still got smallpox and polio, your cattle died of rinderpest, you couldn't buy air-conditioning, antibiotics, analgesics, laparoscopic surgery, a cellphone, or a 2017 Honda Odyssey. Now, even those in the most extreme poverty won't die of smallpox, their cattle won't die of rinderpest, and we all have, as of 2017, 16 chances out of 7 billion of getting polio. Even the poorest may not have direct access to air-conditioning, antibiotics or a cellphone, but there is likely someone who could gift any of those things in a heartbeat. Income inequality is real, and it is one of the hallmarks of a much less impoverished world.

In short, it is demonstrably the case that income inequality has reduced poverty throughout the world. Income inequality arises because some people are much better at serving everyone's needs than other people are. The people who are best at serving other people's needs get physically rewarded. They are rich.

I don't have any problem with people being unequally rewarded for having unequally served people's needs. Those who serve needs better should be better rewarded. I am perfectly fine with income inequality. But let's not pretend that "over-regulation" and "crony government" is anything other than what it is: "over-regulation" is the capitalist system working as libertarians think it should. "Crony" government, "big" government, is the result of successful corporations creating favorable turf for themselves out of a shared resource (government).

According to libertarian theory, there should be nothing wrong with that, especially if it contributes to income inequality. And it will, because "over-regulation" and "cronyism" will prevent most entreprenurial upstarts, forcing those wannabees to endure poverty because they can't get past the government regulations. This allows corporations to continue to acquire massive wealth and increase the income inequality that ends up helping everyone. Just as jailers find it easier to serve prisoners if every prisoner is regimented in his own cell, so corporations find it easier to serve customers if all the customers can be trained to want the same thing and respond the same way to the same stimuli.

A corporation is not much different than any other person. You own a gun, corporations pretty much own law enforcement. You have pets, corporations have customers. You allow your pets to do what they want, as long as they aren't defecating in your house or climbing on the furniture. Corporations allow customers to do what they want, as long as they don't compete with the corporate profits at year's end.

If corporations are legally "persons", and they are, then they have as much right to do what they want as you and I. If what corporations want is to regulate things so as to maximize profits, well, that's the American dream, right?

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