Here are two stories that came to my attention today. One, a piece by Julie Miller in Vanity Fair, memorializes the 80th anniversary of the movie classic The Wizard of Oz by identifying some of the things that went very wrong. MGM studios treated their actors in ways that regulations prohibit today. The other is a radio commentary by Bryan D. Griffin, senior fellow at the London Center. Griffin says that corporate corruption is a consequence of big government regulations on business and that if only we made government leaner then corporations would become nicer and more just.
One of these people seems to want to put us in an ideological fog by operating behind a magic OZ curtain; and it isn’t Miller. Griffin is an apologist for the religion that holds as first tenet that we must sacrifice to the God called wealth. Like the other wizard-priests of that God, he appears willing to forego human compassion, to restrict human betterment, in order to lap up the little scraps that land on his think-tank altar, the ones that trickle down from the power brokers who stay in immediate contact with the conscience-lacking money God.
Griffin asserts that big government regulation incentivizes corporations to act badly in the world. Reducing regulations on corporations, he says, will restore corporations to their normal niceness. Only a wizard of the money God would advance such a view, overgeneralized and without the serious examples and necessary subtleties that give consequential assertions their heft. He is aware, I suppose, that only a fool would be so ignorant or forgetful of the history of corporate malfeasance to take him at his word, to assume that what goes on behind the curtain is all for the better.
Democratic governments regulate in order to resolve, in at least some modest ways, the societal problems that burden their electorates. Slavery, child labor, work-site dangers and exploitation, contaminated foods and drugs, contaminated air and soil, etc., are real problems that regulations successfully confront. At least partially, some of the time.
What happens when we fail to regulate?The opioid crisis is an example very much in the news nowadays. We should have constrained big pharma. But the pharmaceutical companies convinced us to look the other way, to trust them. They sell cold medicines and baby powder and other very normal and useful things that, they will tell you, they would not possibly benefit from manipulating. And yet, all the while, they have profited by injecting into our societal bloodstream a product that is killing our friends and families.
Here is the scary evidence, compiled by the Centers for Disease Control:
Death by unregulated vaping is also in the headlines:
It is not big government regulation that incentivizes corporations to be bad players in the world. The money God requires of its corporate hustlers a “by any means” attitude toward an increase in profits. That attitude means that without ample regulation they will do anything to win, at your expense (corporations that do not play by these zero-sum rules do exist, but they are very few in number).
Miller’s story is a reminder that doing what Griffin wants us to do leads to a decline in individual and communal well-being, and a reduction in democratic freedoms. If we allow corporations to do as they please, without government oversight, without adequate regulation, they will surely exploit us. Be warned.
Indeed: the concept of corporations came into existence because ‘medieval states’ had to delegate (or be urged to delegate) the pursuit of ‘public purposes’ such as the employment of mariners through overseas commercial enterprise or immediate oversight of remote places (such as the bishopric of Durham in England) to ‘private entities’. In exchange for undertaking ‘projects’, these entities received charters that set out their powers (such as building forts, transporting subjects out of realms, etc) and (a concept forgotten in ‘modernity’) their responsibilities as ‘public ventures’. Even in states such as Delaware (notoriously), the state retains the ultimate authority over corporate behavior (should it choose to exercise it) and can revoke charters for those who fail to meet their public obligation (ultra vires).
As always, I appreciate your addition of some historical gravitas, Lou. I try to keep these posts readable and short, which means that I sometimes sacrifice depth. So, thanks to you and others for helping to offer that.