Giving Government Power To Protect Us From Corporate Power Makes Things Worse
Politics revolves around who should have power, often between the public and private sectors, but lack of a clear definition confuses the issue. Power could be described as the ability to use force, though, in some circles, it is construed to mean only “influence” of legal authorities. Even in those places, if people choose not to comply with non-forceful influence, physical force is the fallback position. Because people in some cultures tend not to ruffle feathers or resist such influence, the actual use of power is rare, but that power is known to be in the tool box, and thus, such influence is what might be termed soft coercion. Sheep are easy to herd and can be readily influenced.
Business entities, especially large corporations, can also exert significant influence, or power, and someone asked a question: “Why am I better off relying on private power than public power? In an autocracy, there is little difference, but in this and similar countries, we have the ability to remove politicians from office. We have no such ability to remove CEOs or other private centers of power. If we degrade public power, what protects us from private power?”
The answer is, of course, that, if we are talking about merely influence, anyone, public or private, can try to use it to induce particular actions, as long as they don’t violate the rights of others to make their own decisions. The actual use of power, force, or coercion should be very limited in both the public and private sectors. A corporation that violates the rights of individuals is no better or worse than individuals or government entities that violate such rights, and this gets to the heart of the matter.
The primary legitimate role of government in America is the protection of the rights of individuals to their lives, their liberty, and their property, as outlined in the founding documents: … That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” If corporations or individuals use non-defensive force against another, they are violating some right of someone. It is rational for individuals to delegate to a government entity the use of force in defense of those rights, and the violators should be punished for actual violations, whether a petty thief, a mass-murderer, or an international corporation dumping toxic waste on property that isn’t theirs. CEOs or other centers of private power, as well as government agents, should be removed to jail if they willfully violate lives, liberty, or property.
The reality in this country, and in many others, is that we don’t have the power to remove abusive politicians, bureaucrats, or law enforcement officials. Bad bureaucrats and officials seem to be pretty immune to removal, and politicians get elected over and over, no matter how terrible they are.
On the other hand, without the aid and blessing of some government agency, a private business has absolutely no power over anyone. If a business doesn’t treat a customer well, that customer can vote with his dollars and choose a competitor. If there are no competitors, that is a pretty good indication that government is involved in some way, limiting the ability of other businesses to offer goods and services, as happens on a distressingly frequent basis. Absent actual violation of rights, CEOs of businesses that do not treat their customers well will be removed, if not officially by the owners, then by business failure in the long run, something which we have also witnessed fairly regularly.
The real question, then, is who protects us from public power, since they have the legal monopoly on force and tend toward immunity from punishment.
Originally published on Townhall Finance.
Daniel J. McLaughlin is the author of “Compassion and Truth-Why Good Intentions Don’t Equal Good Results.” Formerly a finance executive, he is now focused primarily on writing on economics, business, and politics. You can find him at daniel-mclaughlin.com.