05
Sep
11

Don’t forget to hate the corporations

…wait, what?

Aretae has an important post up:

First, he notes that libertarians should hate (we can read this more charitably as a tongue-in-cheek alternate spelling of “oppose”) government because it’s coercive, not because government is They and not We.  (See also.)  Large corporations occupy similar positions of power, albeit with the fundamental difference (at least in happy first-world economies) that they won’t kick down your door and murder your puppy if you want to sell raw milk or run a weekly poker game with your friends.

“But nobody’s forcing you to deal with large corporations if you don’t want to!”, you cry.  Er, lol n00b.  Goldman Sachs and General Motors are arms of the government in all but name.  Every time a lobbyist buys lunch for a Senator, some damn megalocorporation is trying to use government force to coerce you.  Maybe it’s trying to make sure you can’t set up a side business without paying your dues to the establishment and getting licensed, or maybe it’s making sure that its smaller competitors will be too burdened with onerous regulatory costs to compete.  Either way, you’re getting fucked.

Libertarians tend to reply to these points in two ways.  The first is to point out (not unreasonably) that corporations get their money (and thence their power) from free exchange, and that free exchange is essentially non-coercive, while governments are coercive pretty much by definition — the thing that separates a government from a private entity is the former’s local monopoly on aggressive violence.  This is true in a very abstract sense: if we didn’t have governments to go around inventing and enforcing lopsided regulations, we could still have corporations.  In practice, though, well-connected lobbying corporations are at least as complicit in the creation and enforcement of those regulations as any individual Congressshitbag or Member of Fucking Parliament.  Nobody hates capitalism like capitalists.

The second libertarian response, once the drearily accurate counterexample to the first has been pointed out, is to note that corporations are just responding to incentives like any other rational agent would.  This is, of course, true.  So is the Congressshitbag who steers stimulus funds to well-connected contractors in his district, or the SWAT cop who double-taps your beagle whilst serving a warrant on your neighbour.  Responding rationally to a set of immoral incentives doesn’t absolve you of blame or shield you from opprobrium.

This is all uncomfortably dissonant with the usual (and correct) intuition that if two parties make an exchange and both walk away satisfied, both parties are better off.  After all, I’ve argued vociferously that me buying beer from a government monopolist is a win-win exchange.  But does this mean there’s no coercion going on at all?  Not so much.  Kevin Carson notes:

[T]hat’s the whole point of being in a monopoly position:  you can set the price to a level at which the consumer just barely considers the choice to buy as preferable to not buying — rather than engaging in a competitive market in which the price will tend to gravitate toward the actual cost of providing a good or service.  When someone buys a glass of water in the middle of the Sahara for $1000, she considers the transaction to be a net positive benefit compared to dying of thirst — so what?

It’s important to point out that free exchange — as opposed to, say, paying your taxes — is welfare-improving.  But that’s not nearly the whole story, and by itself it’s insufficient to absolve big business.

Advertisements

5 Responses to “Don’t forget to hate the corporations”


  1. 1 perlhaqr
    September 5, 2011 at 14:13

    Every time a lobbyist buys lunch for a Senator, some damn megalocorporation is trying to use government force to coerce you. Maybe it’s trying to make sure you can’t set up a side business without paying your dues to the establishment and getting licensed, or maybe it’s making sure that its smaller competitors will be too burdened with onerous regulatory costs to compete. Either way, you’re getting fucked.

    Yes, but you’re still getting fucked by the government.

    Or, to boil it down to essentials: In the absence of a government to buy lopsided legislation from, the corporations couldn’t buy lopsided legislation.

    • September 5, 2011 at 14:17

      Absolutely. I’m not arguing that corporations are bad in the same sense that governments are bad. I’m more or less arguing that corporations are bad in the same sense that politicians are bad: take away the government (or more specifically its monopoly on aggressive violence), and you take away much of their opportunity to do harm.

      • 3 perlhaqr
        September 6, 2011 at 06:09

        *nod*

        Sorry, I just find myself having to make this point over and over and over again to people who really are “corporation haters” but have never seen a government action they didn’t slobber the dick of.

  2. 4 madrocketscientist
    September 6, 2011 at 13:44

    But how do you remove the monopoly of violence and still maintain law & order?

    • September 6, 2011 at 14:12

      Government grants itself a monopoly on aggressive violence. If I pull a knife on you in the street and demand your wallet, you’re well within your rights to defend yourself as vigorously as necessary (at least on this continent), but when the IRS or the CRA demands a chunk of your yearly income you’re expected to pay up meekly. The “violence” part of maintaining law and order is mostly about countervailing violence, or at least it should be.

      Given that, though, I think the answer is “you don’t”, if we were to somehow remove the government’s monopoly on aggressive violence tomorrow. I’m a gradualist about anarchocapitalism: I don’t think it’ll work very well at all until we evolve a set of social norms that supports it (and I think we’re moving in that direction).

      I’m not well-educated on the subject, but I think the Lex Mercatoria work as a pretty decent example of law and order in the absence of government. I’ll have to do some research and write it up. Also, there’s a paper called “Justice entrepreneurship in a free market” sitting on my bookshelf, which I’ve never actually bothered to read. Looks like it provides one or more possible answers to your question.


Leave a reply; use raw HTML for markup. Please blockquote quotations from the post or other comments.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


anarchocapitalist agitprop

Be advised

I say fuck a lot

Categories

Archives

Statistics FTW


%d bloggers like this: