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Coercion, Corporate Privilege, and “Capitalism”

March 23rd, 2012

If someone were to steal all the bread, and then offer to sell it to us for $10/loaf, we would call that a crime. If a business were to steals only some of the bread, prevents a few other bread manufacturers from operating nearby, and offer to sell us a loaf for $5, would you defend the business’ “right” to sell you bread and your “right” to refuse on free market principles?

If so, you’re an idiot.

Yeah, I had a discussion with some of those misguided souls, you know the type of people who spin their wheels trying to rehabilitate the word “capitalism”, pro-“free market” except their pro-corporate blinders keep them from grapsing how badly the market is being brutalized by the government they purport to hate? Recently, there’s been a little splash because some employers are now asking candidates for their Facebook password, in order to see what’s behind their “privacy” wall. Of course, if government did this it would be atrocious because “government is coercive” but if businesses do this it’s OK because businesses are all “consensual”.

Although this was the genesis of the debate, ultimately it was more of a macro argument. I honestly think these jackasses were more pissed off about the fact that some people want to ask the (government) courts to weigh in on this practice, potentially barring it., but ultimately the discussion centered around their core position: corporations are comprised of individuals, individuals have rights, and therefore corporations have rights.

OK. I’ll play that game. But what about the powers that they exercise, either bestowed by or complicit with the government?

You don’t get to cherry-pick facts. Granting the idea that a corporation (as a collective of individuals) has certain rights transmuted from those individuals, you can’t ignore the exercises of illegitimate powers (things like administering the tax code/collection, or regulatory privilege, and barriers to entry which stifle competition), which are not the proper exercise of rights and therefore cannot be defended as the exercise thereof.

Even though they may act legitimately (by that loose collective rights definition) some of the time or even most of the time, sometimes they do not. As a result, they accrue benefits and privileges which they can (and do) lever against others further down the line, whereupon they ignore the privilege that brought them to the current advantageous position and appeal to the mystical rights argument: “Aha! but right now, you see, I am doing something that is perfectly within my rights…”

Like the bread example above, you must consider the body of work and not just the immediate “option” you’re being presented with. You cannot ignore the usurpation of the rights of others, the coercion which becomes an inseparable part of the whole.

Recognizing this coercion for what it is, you are within your rights to resist, even if that means — ahem — trying to sue them in a government court (really your only option, since the government has a monopoly on law and disorder and it’s the only venue that these corporations would recognize as legitimate anyways).

Yes, the sort of large transnationals, stock-market-indexed corporations are the most obvious examples of this sort of thing, but it’s silly to pretend that smaller businesses are immune from this process. Almost nobody is immune from the process, which is why it is important to understand that literally nothing exists at present which even comes close to the sort of free market corporation (and I use this term veryloosely) that would prevail absent the government’s coercion

Failure to make this distinction, and dogmatically believing in “the market” and the benevolence of corporations is what gives “free market” advocates a bad rap.  So keep the “free market” as an end in itself as your goal, and stop trying to twist logic to justify what is happening, accept that things would (and probably should) be very different, and imagine the possibilities of what could happen in their stead.

Unfortunately I was unable to, despite repeated attempts, get either to budge an inch towards accepting the even part of my argument:

It was an entertaining, if not futile discussion which reminded me why I don’t discuss these things anymore.

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