04 Dec 2020 Big Business Pursuit Of Political Power Forces Response From Right
Big business, or at least the biggest and loudest members of the cadre, has turned away from the clean and honest pursuit of money via voluntary exchange, and toward the aggregation of political power to force its will on all of us. This shift requires the coalition of the right to rethink and restructure its relationship with corporate America. The retooling can be accomplished, and can even create a new fusion nexus for the new and evolving right. But it’s going to take some heavy thinking.
The political right in the United States has in the modern period fundamentally been, broadly, a force for freedom and prosperity. There have always been fiery arguments about what constitutes liberty and what rules must be maintained for the preservation of order, but for many years the rule was: business liberty and a vibrant economy, a strong defense, and otherwise as small a government as we can wrest from our political opponents.
At the beginning of the century, “strong defense” mutated into “aggressive foreign intervention” in a way that initially had strong support from the right. The foreign aggressiveness continued through 2016, but its locus of support shifted. Now – and probably into the foreseeable future – support for interventionism has shifted out of the coalition of the right. The forever warriors’ secession has been fairly grandiose; they will not be missed. Now we can get back to “peace through strength; safety at home and moral suasion abroad.”
Now comes a harder transformation. For many years the American right, being thought of as the defender of liberty and prosperity, has also largely been thought of as the defender of business. This has always been something of a misunderstanding – one endlessly fostered by the Michael Moore left. In fact, the clear thinkers on the right have not have mindlessly defended business. We have defended free enterprise, which usually comes under the somewhat distracting term ‘capitalism’.
For a long time we’ve been able to be intellectually lazy, or at least imprecise, about the distinction, because business interests largely embraced the principles of free enterprise and exchange. But at the top echelons of big business, this is no longer even remotely true. And so we on the right must retrench accordingly.
Most American conservatives and libertarians understand that Chaucer got it slightly wrong (or took useful literary license to undermine the Pardoner’s virtue signaling). The love of money, by itself, is not the root of all evil. Money is just a tool to make exchange for mutual benefit easier. It’s no more evil than a blender. And there’s something very healthy indeed in the love of what money facilitates: the voluntary exchange of goods and services between free people for their mutual benefit.
Excessive love of money, or of money for its own sake, can be at least as weird as – and is certainly less rare than – fawning enchantment with a blender qua blender. And this misdirected love can lead to “all kinds of evil,” as the original may have meant it (and which would make a great deal more sense), but only if another ingredient is added.
No, the root of all evil isn’t the love of money. It’s the love of power over other people. Because money is just a tool, it can’t by itself do anything. If you are rich and I am poor, yet I have some goods or can provide some services that you want, then money is the means by which we both make one another richer and happier by trading my goods or services for your money. I don’t trade unless I’m better off afterward, nor do you. But since you have a lot of money and I have less, I’m likely to be proportionally better off than you at the end of the exchange.
It’s not money that brings about evil, but power. Once power to control other people is introduced, both free exchange and mutual benefit are destroyed. Now you, who can buy some power, can force me to give you my goods and services whether I like it or not. And I, who can buy less power, have no way to stop you.
Power over other competent adults is the tool of evil, and love of it the evil itself.
The left has never been able to – or is portentously unwilling to – recognize any of this. It either confuses or conflates the inability of a free person to make an exchange (because that person does not have enough to offer other traders) with the denial to that free person of the opportunity to exchange. It conflates forced disability with natural inability.
Increasingly, in recent years, big American business has in exactly this sense moved hard left. Some businesses have always sought power advantages rather than free exchange advantages. This has not been by building a better product and amassing more money; that’s clean, wonderful, and benefits everyone. It’s been by seeking additional regulation, thereby increasing the cost of entry into business for competitors and allowing them to charge more for less. Note well: businesses have sought regulation to insulate themselves from free competition. Protecting government-favored businesses by hobbling the disfavored isn’t usually how regulation is described, but it’s always, at least in part, how it works.
But now the corporate titans – most obviously in tech, entertainment and banking, but more broadly as well – have gone whole hog in their desire to control our lives. We hardly need belabor the evidence here. Restricting speech, financially crippling arms manufacturers, demanding wildly more expensive and unreliable energy – the list is long.
The challenge for the right now is to develop business policies that address this massive shift. Because government is essentially about power, about controlling people, we still must keep government as small as possible. But we need to develop policies and strategies that continue to constrain government while preventing businesses from becoming private Karen Collectives to control us all.
Future columns will include my humble efforts to develop that policy.
Scott Shepard is a fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research and Deputy Director of its Free Enterprise Project.