Posted by Charity on September 26th, 2006

(Filed under: Political Thought)

I want to address a point that was raised by Terje in the comments of the post, “I Want to Be a Liberal.” The comment can be viewed here.

It reminded me of the conversation I had with Scudder Parker at the blogger BBQ at North Beach this summer. When I indicated that I prefer free-market to government control, Scudder asked me who would protect us from the corporations.

He kind of caught me off guard because of the sheer inanity of such a question. I mean, corporations do not have the kind of control over us that the government does. Corporations cannot haul us off to jail. Corporations cannot take custody of our children. Corporations cannot take our money without our consent. Corporations cannot subpoena our library records, tap our phones, or search our homes.

After I thought about it some more, I realized that it really is true that the major difference between the conservatives and the liberals comes down to a fear of big government versus a fear of big business.

I tend to look at business as something I have a choice about. I can choose what store to shop at. I can choose what products to buy. I can choose where to work.

Where there is choice, we have the control.

There are areas where corporations can harm us without our consent. Most notably is the environment. I do not wish to return to the glory days when factories dumped waste into our waterways and buried toxic chemicals in the ground. I happen to like the environment clean. My choice to use natural products and eat natural foods for my own health and well being would be completely undermined if I was breathing, drinking, or otherwise consuming toxic chemicals against my will.

To me, that would be as much a violation of my rights as a more blatant personal assault. People should have recourse against such violations and therefore I agree that a certain amount of regulation or other method of government protection is necessary. I put that in the same category as other defense that that government is justified in providing.

What I feel like the liberal, or progressive, thinkers seem to forget is that a business is run by people who have rights. When the government is used to regulate and restrict businesses, it is infringing on the rights of the business owners.

Terje asked if the right to be free from discrimination was a public good that should be protected by the government.

I do not agree that we have the right to be free from discrimination. In fact, I think people have the right to discriminate.

I know it sounds harsh. The problem is that we discriminate all of the time. Walter Williams has a short, entertaining column about that very subject.

Once you decide that the government needs to uphold our right to be free from discrimination, where do you draw the line?

When my children were in public school, my oldest son, then in second grade, told me he never wanted to go back to school again because three boys in his class were taunting him (his word) on the playground. Was it because of his race? No. It was because his parents are Republicans.

No one seemed alarmed by this. Does it only matter that his feelings are hurt if the taunting is racial? It didn’t hurt any less, I am sure, and he can’t help his parents being Republicans any more than he can control the color of his skin. In fact, he never had anyone tease him for being the only child of color in his class.

Should the government protect against discrimination for political beliefs? If not, why not? Is one group of people’s feelings more important than another’s?

I think we would be better off self-policing discrimination. In this age of communication technology, we have the means to do that. Don’t think for a minute that the main-stream media wouldn’t jump at the chance to exploit inform the public about such incidents, too. Then there is always protesting, as an option, as well.

I also think that we have the capability to self-police other areas. Instead of having government inspections of foods, we could rely on private groups or guilds. Like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, buyers could look for the symbol that lets them know they have the quality of product they are looking for. If the group let their quality slip, it would destroy their good name and put them out of business. That is their motive for excellence. What motive does the government have? When the government screws up, who holds it accountable?

The bottom line is that I am not compelled to distrust businesses to the degree that I distrust the government. Business is powered by the dollar and as a consumer, I have the dollars. I also have the ability to encourage others to withhold their dollars. When it comes to government, I have no recourse if it is infringing on my rights. And if I don’t want to give the government my dollars, it will just take them.

I also wanted to address another question, but I have run out of time and this post has run way long.

I will be back this afternoon to post up my response to this:

Should access to health care be a market commodity based on ability to pay or a common good that should be guaranteed for all, like fire protection, police, national defense, roads, parks, snow plows, courts?

I am also going to do a post this week on how I became so libertarian and I will finally get around to the second part of my National Security discussion with Vermonter. Stay tuned!

4 Responses to “Government vs. Business”

  1. Charity,

    I strongly, but respectfully, disagree with your with your assertion that the major difference between liberals and conservatives is that liberals fear big business and conservatives fear big government.

    First, I do not refer to progressives as liberals. Liberals are for limited government and individual liberty and republican forms of government. Progressives favor centralized, bureaucratic government and collective liberty and various forms of socialism.

    Conservatives, however, recognize order, tradition, hierarchy, prescription, custom, and the intermediate associations of family, church, gild, and neighborhood. A conservative rejects the state-sanctioned economics of socialism and the monopolized greed of capitalism.

    Read Belloc and Chesterton and Russell Kirk for these views. Also read Rod Dreher’s book, “Crunchy Cons”.

  2. Charity,

    I’m very much enjoying this dialogue that has been unfolding over the past few months…

    But, I think saying that Scudder asking you who would protect you from corporations is not “sheer inanity” at all — based entirely on your own support of environmental regulation.

    When we met at the blogger BBQ you made a comment about the poor environmental state of Texas… So, I was all geared up to challenge you that point.

    But, as usual, you were honest and thoughtful enough to address it yourself.

    Now, in theory, letting the market dictate things can sound good. But, that’s just theory.

    See, it’s not just the environment.

    There are countless stories of businesses who have caused harm to people — either through intentional fraud and corruption or out of their own ignorance.

    And, by the same token, there are countless stories of the government causing harm.

    Like with the previous posts about what liberals believe and Democrat’s attitudes about national security, it seems that you make exceptions to your arguments that have the effect of completely undermining them.

    But, to me, as “world is not black and white” kind of person, I certainly appreciate that!

    My personal belief is that a certain amount of regulation is just common-sense to prevent the development of unaccountable monoloplies.

    The trick, I think, is to do them in ways that don’t lead to excessive and arbitrary beauracracy.

  3. Oh, and if you missed my comment on a previous thread, I took the political compass and landed in the center of the libertarian-left… With Ghandi and the Dalai Lama.

  4. I don’t think that I undermined my own argument at all. The government needs to fill the roles of security that individuals cannot provide for themselves – military, police, fire department – why shouldn’t that include protecting our environment as well? When the government protects us in other ways, it also has to balance the right of the person doing the harm. The same would apply to any environmental protections – they should not unduly infringe on the rights of the business.

    If a person vandalizes my car, the government is justified in stepping in. By the same token, if a person is polluting my water, the government has a right to step in.

    But, if my employer doesn’t pay me what I want, that is my problem to work out. If I don’t like my benefits, again, that’s my problem. My employer is not violating my rights or harming me without consent. I can get another job. The fact that I work there is my consent.

    If a business is defrauding people, the government can step in because that is a non-consensual depravation of their property.

    Am I making clear my distinction here?

    What other ways do businesses hurt people? I hate to take things on a case by case basis, but I can if I am not making my point.

    The bottom line is that the government can haul you away and take your home, your kids, your freedom, or anything else it wants to if we let it. Businesses cannot do that to us. How are they more dangerous, then?

    Vermonter, or Gandhi if you prefer ;) , you seem to have a pragmatic approach to things, which I totally respect, but many of the people who you align yourself with politically want a much more regulated system than you seem to favor based on your comments.

    I think there are definitely three different basic categories at work here: free-market, socialized economy (or at lest highly regulated), and the sort of middle view, which is somewhat free market with government regulation to prevent corporations from having too much power.

    The problem from my side of the fence is that once you put the basic regulation in that the seemingly “middle ground” group wants, then it is only a matter of time before you end up with too much regulation.