Posts tagged Soviet Union

Column on Are Corporations People?

Are Corporations People?

Tibor R. Machan

Much fussing is in evidence from certain circles–some heavy hitters, like Professor Ronald Dworkin–about the Supreme Court’s recent ruling that protects corporations against government intervention when they make political contributions. The common complaint appears to be that corporations are not, after all, people.

When I run across this I always run through a thought experiment or two. I think of a corporation and ask myself, what am I thinking of. Do I think of buildings? Trucks? Limos? Parking lots? The plants that adorn the entry ways to the buildings where the corporation is housed?

None of the above, I conclude. It is people, that’s who. They are the ones I am thinking of, a bunch of human beings engaged in various activities, mostly in offices, sometimes in mail or conference rooms. And I think what else is familiar to me that fits this analysis? Well, universities, colleges, orchestras, choirs, sororities, fraternities, families, and the like–they are all made up of people and without the people they wouldn’t be what they are. Yet they can all act in unison, as well, as “one body,” so to speak, provided those who belong to them see eye to eye.

So then why all the fuss about the court’s ruling that acknowledges that business and other corporations are indeed people? Well, probably because many of the people who make up corporations disagree with the politics of those who deny them their humanity, the folks who keep insisting that corporations are something impersonal and heartless. One way to demean such folks is to write them off as something other than human beings–big faceless entities of some kind, yet with consciousness and the capacity to make good and bad choices and also capable of being sued in a court of law.

The bottom line seems clearly to be that those who make up a business corporation are people engaged in profit making endeavors, something that many folks around the country and the globe deem to be unseemly. In the Soviet Union these people were considered profiteers and accordingly taken to be criminals, given that the USSR was committed to the Marxist communist ideal that wealth may not be pursued by individuals but must be shared among all. Not that most Soviet citizens bought into this but the official ideology adhered to the idea.

What business corporations are, by my common sense understanding, is organizations established by a bunch of human beings for the purpose of conducting commerce and reaping economic benefits from this. The organization usually employs some managers and the like who are responsible to guide it toward economic success. If they fail, they are usually let go but if they succeed, they often get very well paid–after all, they helped a lot of people, shareholders and stockholders, to reap profits.

So what is the fuss all about? Why is a symphony orchestra accepted as comprised of human beings but not a business corporation? Well, I think maybe it is the widespread prejudice among intellectuals against wealth care. This is why public enterprises like PBS, NPR and most educational institutions are deemed by them holier than all get out but private enterprises are besmirched routinely. As if those involved in public undertakings were all morally superior, while those seeking profit must all be cads.

But as public choice theory has so well demonstrated, those standing up for the public interest are by no means without the temptation to pursue their own agendas instead of the public interest, something that hardly anyone knows enough about to actually serve conscientiously.

Let’s stop this business bashing that is, especially now, so damaging to society, what with everyone needing business to forge ahead and succeed so that we can all make a decent living from the employment their profit pursuits make possible. It is utterly bizarre that this kind of an attitude toward business corporations can be in place when those corporations are so necessary for us all to recover economic well being.

So the answer to the question about corporations being people or not is that they definitely are although they may not be the sort of people the critics admire or want to have around much of the time.

Column on Two Cheers for the Gridlock

Two Cheers for the Gridlock

Tibor R. Machan

On one of those few occasions that I have managed to rub elbows with a hero of mine, I caught Milton Friedman on a TV program endorsing the gridlock in Washington during a recent administration–I believe it was President Bill Clinton’s second term. One point he made was that any gridlock in Washington or elsewhere is a good thing, given that the belief that government can solve all kinds of problems if the politicians only cooperate is poppycock.

I have been writing in favor of gridlocks for some time, at least as a second best option to the one wherein the government is in the hands of an administration that is fully committed to limited powers. So I went to my computer and send Dr. Friedman a message thanking him for promoting the second best alternative of the gridlock in Washington. I was very please when he jokingly replied, saying “Great minds run in the same gutter.”

Although I wasn’t thrilled with the outcome on November 2, 2010, that Harry Reid and Barbara Boxer, among others, would be headed back to the nation’s capitol to try to continue to shore up the government’s powers, at least the election had the favorable result of producing a gridlocked regime for a while. I say, let them be bogged own in their partisan bickering. This may have the unintended consequence of making life less regimented for most Americans, even free up our productive energies somewhat.

Yes, a free society is probably too much to hope for as the outcome of a democratic election, especially when all around the globe–Venezuela, Brazil, and other places–people keep investing government with powers, guided by a blind faith in statism. Even in the countries that have experienced the most clear cut implications of empowering government to run people’s lives, those formerly ruled by the Soviet Union, a great many citizens keep clamoring for entitlements, security, and benefits for which other people must be forced to work and pay. The governmental habit is far from extinguished even for those who have been victimized by it. And even if some of the victims came away with the lesson well learned, their offspring are by no means the wiser–hope for the impossible tends to reside in the hearts of too many everywhere and prudence is not an inherited virtue. So they give power to monsters like Hugo Chavez and even worse people, some of them, like Chavez, outright madmen. And even in the country at times–thought less so than before–labeled “leader of the free world,” committed statists such as Nancy Pelosy, Harry Reid, Jerry Brown, et al., are entrusted with powers no sane person should bestow on anyone apart from one’s physician, perhaps, and only for a little while if at all.

So then it is perhaps understandable that some of us follow the lead of the likes of the late Dr. Friedman and support a gridlock which, maybe unintentionally but nonetheless consequentially, promises to tie the politicians into knots of disputation, maneuvering, dealings, and so forth that may make it possible for the rest of us to go about our business. Even those who are in the grips of the governmental habit might benefit from this, indirectly, when they discover that government inaction is actually quite a good thing.

Some years back the police went on strike in San Francisco and, lo and behold, despite the prediction of alarmists that crime would run rampant throughout the city, very little increase in crime actually occurred. Maybe even the one proper role of government, keeping at bay violent criminals, doesn’t require huge force and expenditure.

But it is always important to remember in these kinds of discussions that over most of human history the state was revered, especially by the elite, meaning of course that the elite felt that their power is needed to run things properly. This despite the fact that from time immemorial it has also been widely known that this attitude mostly promotes despotism and no good government at all.

So, then, I say: bring on the gridlock. Therein lies our salvation for the time being.