Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Corporations Are People, Too

Since the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case a few years ago, Barack Obama, the Democrats, and liberals throughout the media have made a regular point of exclaiming their view that corporations aren't people and thus should not be given the same rights as people. I believe that this is fallacious, both as it applies to cases like Citizens United and the liberal progressive desire to denigrate corporations in general.

Obviously, corporations aren't people. Just as obviously, corporations are groups of people. To those who would strip corporations of the right to political speech, I ask, how can a group of people have fewer rights than an individual person?

The First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Which part should convince me that the freedom of speech that shall not be abridged happens to not apply to corporate entities? An interesting aspect of the amendment, when viewed in this light, is that all the other First Amendment rights require or strongly imply the protection of groups. It is clear that the free exercise of religion protects group worship. It is clear that freedom of the press protects media organizations. Peaceable assembly wouldn't make much sense if it only applied to individuals, and I can't imagine that the same generation of men who signed The Declaration of Independence would have conceptualized a petition for the redress of grievances to be solely an individual undertaking. So what's more likely, that the founding fathers accidentally included one right that only applies to individuals among a list of other rights that necessarily applied to groups, or that when they wrote "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech...", they really meant it?

On top of superficial legal arguments, liberal politicians and talk show pundits try their hardest to sow the seeds of anti-corporate sentiment by convincing us to associate corporations with the ultra wealthy, often focusing on CEOs. The reality is significantly less objectionable, even to a class warrior. Most of the people whose well being is affected by the state of a corporation aren't the kind that are easy to attack. Employees are the most obvious example. Most employees of corporations represent the middle class or below, and the bigger (and therefore eviler) the corporation, the more of these employees there are. A common sense assessment should tell us that the better a corporation does, the more it can afford to pay its employees, and the more people it can afford to employ. Stock holders are another group that directly benefits from the success of a corporation. Given the amount of 401(k) and IRA investment undertaken by the modern middle class, it's increasingly difficult to see how a reasoned view of corporate well being could ignore the benefits provided to very people liberals are claiming to represent.1

1. I have omitted an additional group of non-wealthy people that benefit from the success of corporations. Those people are called customers. The reasoning underlying the inclusion of customers in this argument is, sadly, a bit too ambitious for this post.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Government Responsible for Wealth?

Tom Woods posted a blog last week in opposition to the idea that government provided services like public education and roads are responsible for the wealth and success of society in general and the success of very wealthy people specifically. Then today I saw a Zo video about Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren making the same argument (in favor of the government).

Having heard this argument before, and having spent some time thinking about it, I've come up with an additional objection. I'm sure someone somewhere has said this before, but since I've never heard it anywhere it should be worth saying.

Anyone who has read Economics in One Lesson should be familiar with The Lesson:
The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.
My objection to attributing the comparative wealth of the richest members of society to general government services is based on this methodology. If you are only considering the wealthy, and you find that a lot of them have made use of government programs such as "free" K-12 education, it might seem tempting to attribute a significant amount of their overall success to that service. When you consider the whole picture, however, such a claim begins to seem ridiculous. If a wealthy person became wealthy because of stuff the government gives to everyone, why isn't everyone wealthy? If we seek to explain the differences between the rich and the poor, clearly we cannot rely on conditions that apply to both.

The belief that government services are responsible for conspicuous wealth also suggests a rather cynical view of the poor. If all it takes to become a millionaire is something that everyone gets, what kind of judgement can we make of people who squander this resource? There is no way to escape the conclusion that different outcomes have different causes, so if wealth isn't the result of extraordinarily good effort by the wealthy, then poverty must be the result of extraordinarily bad effort by the poor. 

Or maybe the reasoning is fallacious to begin with.