Joseph Rowlands
Joseph Rowlands

The Twisting of Blame

We’re constantly being assaulted by nonsense about big business controlling and manipulating government at the expense of us. Not to fear, though. The defenders of capitalism have stood their ground. They state unequivocally that those businessmen are not elements of capitalism. They are a part of a mixed-economy. That under a truly free market, they wouldn’t be able to buy these favors.

This is what I call winning the battle, and losing the war. Although the defense is correct and makes an important point clear, it accepts the terms of the debate. It accepts that those who wield the guns, those with the physical power to initiate force, are the victims. It accepts that the government, with their tanks and missiles, is somehow intimidated and bullied by a handful of businessmen in suits and ties.

It’s pretty clear that something’s wrong with this picture. Obviously the government doesn’t tremble at the thought of well-dressed men and women carrying cell phones and briefcases. And yet this is the underlying assumption behind the "control" of government by "corporate interests". Ralph Nader and his socialist followers don’t see the government as part of the problem. In fact, they mean to fight these "evil corporations" by further strengthening the government. Only a powerful, central-planning organization can resist the onslaught of well-groomed individuals with catchy slogans, and an eye to customer satisfaction.

Naturally this is not the libertarian view. And when made explicit, you can be sure everyone will denounce it as crazy and wrongheaded. They’ll claim that of course the businessmen don’t "control" the government. They merely bribe them. How could anyone believe it? Well, there’s one way. Leave the abstraction floating, and never look too hard at it. Make the outrageous claim that bureaucrats can do no wrong, and businessmen are "making them do it".

Irrational? Yes. Nonetheless, this is a view clearly held by many people today. During the recent U.S. Presidential elections, Nader managed to get a solid backing.

The truth is that Nader’s message resonated with a lot of people. He appealed to their fear and envy, but he did appeal. He told them that big business is evil, and only a dedicated man with the destructive power of the United States government could defend our lives, happiness, and children from the onslaught of men and women offering to trade goods and services. He claimed that government, which is angelic and can do no wrong, is being controlled by "special interests". And he claimed to know how to fix it. Give the government unlimited power to destroy, and it will make the problem go away.

This is the message that resonated with so many people. It resonated so well, I was inundated with stupid remarks by libertarians claiming they agreed with Nader. The standard statement was "He has a good point, but he’s going about fixing it in the wrong way". This gives too much credit to the Greens, and ignores what they’re saying. One should never give the benefit of the doubt, or leave uncontested, statements that irrational. It’s because nobody takes them too seriously that they are such a threat.

Similar remarks and articles claimed that Nader was dangerous and misguided, but correct at least as far as blaming those "mixed-economy businessmen" who "manipulate" and "control" the government.

I don’t "manipulate" and "control" the local grocer. I buy goods from him at a price we both agree upon. There is no coercion. There is no power I wield over him. I’m not even tricking him. He sets up shop and offers his wares for sale. When I buy goods, I’m a part of the transaction, but as they say, it takes two to tango. To say that I made him sell me something would sound preposterous. So why do people do it with the government?

Governments, or more particularly the people in the government, sell their favors. When one has unlimited, arbitrary power, one will always sell it. They don’t shy away from it, either. Most are active at extorting money or gifts from their victims. This is why Libertarians mistakenly say that regulatory agencies usually end up as the pawn of those that they’re regulating. Mistaken, because the "pawns" are the ones wielding the power, and demanding the payment.

Getting rid of the businessmen, special interests, and political donations will not get rid of the selling of favors. It just changes what the terms of exchange are. If it is impossible to give money to a bureaucrat, the bureaucrat will tell you he accepts jewelry. Or women. Or vacations to Maui. So not only is Nader clearly wrong about who’s controlling whom, but his solution is doomed to fail. Giving more power just means giving more favors to sell. Destroying businessmen and wealth lowers the price, but doesn’t change the amount of corruption.

But the government is not the local grocer. The government can force a transaction to be made, even if it doesn’t specify which transaction. Businesses are held hostage. They are forced to enter a contract with the devil, or be destroyed by brute force, at the request of a competitor, or maybe as a sign to any who aren’t willing to play the game (Microsoft, anyone?).

Naturally some go willingly to the government, but even these can’t be said to control the government. One still needs the seller. I don’t need to be approached by the grocer. I know he’s there selling his goods. If I initiate the transaction, it doesn’t change the responsibility of those wielding the power of government. These businessmen buying favors are reprehensible and vile, but they are secondary to the real problem. The primary responsibility is with those that sell the use of force, and wield arbitrary, non-objective power.

The advocates of freedom cannot accept these terms of debate. We must not let them be accepted. Government is the corrupting force, and these crimes are their responsibility.

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