Well, as strange as it sounds there is actually a lot of things I agree with Socialists on. First, “Big Corporations are often bad” and second, “Inequality is a problem”. I’ll talk about each in turn.
So I agree that big corporations are often bad. I very aggressively dislike Google, Twitter, Facebook, I’m distrustful of Amazon, I’m more than a little suspicious of the big oil companies and anyone associated with the Military Industrial Complex. Slightly off topic, but Libertarians in general tend to be strongly anti-war as well, although this might be more well known. I mean there is always a lot of hard ethical questions when it comes to genuinely bad governments abusing or murdering citizens and when intervention might be the correct ethical choice but as a default stance is fair to say that Libertarians in general do not like frivolous war mongering. If you define the Left as leaning towards collectivism, and the Right as leaning towards heirarchy, then I am equally hostile to both, but you wouldn’t call me a centrist either since I don’t occupy any space that many would call moderate.
But to go back to the topic of big corporations, you have to understand what the prime interest of Libertarians in general is that is that I don’t want to be coerced or pressured into doing something that I object to. Now, this would also apply to corporations. The root of all of it is precisely that I aim to do what I please so long as I’m not inflicting harm on anyone, provided of course, a reasonable definition of harm. It doesn’t matter who would attempt to coerce me, I’m just not interested in it happening. The same criticism I have of government I would pose identically to big corporations as well. Essentially, “stay out of my way”.
The primary focus is usually directed at the government because it is generally the government that is the gatekeeper of harm, and violence in particular. Robert Heinlein said very accurately “Violence, the supreme authority from which all others are derived”. Therefore who has the ability to commit violence has the authority. The saying “knowledge is power” is true only sofar as that knowledge can be transmuted into violence.
Corporations on the other hand, rarely have much in the way of violence. Which is why they get less “air time” than government. Also, they simply have less power to influence me. I can, at least some of the time, opt out of business with a corporation but I never, ever have the ability to opt out of government. But to go on, I think a huge part of the corruption of Capitalism is that there is a government that can be influenced, or people within that government that can be outright purchased. My proposal at least in this regard is that the more limited the government the less ability it has to sell out.
A brief note, I did just say “the corruption of Capitalism”, and I think that may have got the attention of many Socialists as well — yes I do agree that Capitalism has a weakness when it comes to possiblity of corruption. So when you talk about how things should work you need to invent a way to limit that weakness — some would suggest removing Capitalism entirely but I think that’s beyond the scope of this discussion and certainly we have historical examples of that happening. So let me leave that for another time and focus on making Capitalism more robust in its implementations. Socialists have their theories on how best to do that, my theory is limiting their influence on government. Because Corporations rarely if ever have any ability to project significant physical violence their actual authority will always be limited. I would ask Socialists, “Where do you draw the line on when a business is too powerful?” because I don’t know either. The definition would have to be legal in nature, and extremely precise. Should this be defined, we might agree on it, where we go from there likely would likely vary. But common ground shouldn’t be overlooked when it is found.
I want you to be honest here, when the silicon valley Big companies came for someone, it wasn’t Socialists or Communists. It was anyone who could be even vaguely defined as right-wing. If you are really being truthful, you don’t actually think that everyone on the right is a Nazi do you? Do I seem like a Nazi? My dislike of hierarchy, my belief in the individual as the broadest possible metic, and my distaste for government violence should all disquality me almost by definition. So if anyone should have a problem with big corporations its the very people who’ve mostly been attacked by then, and it isn’t you, at least so far as the silicon valley corporations go.
So lets go on to inequality. Wikipedia states that in 2007, the top 20% of the wealthiest had 80% of the total wealth. You can cut these statistics down a bit and note that the top 1% has 35% of the wealth. Let me be clear, this is very bad, and this has severe consequences. I think that we agree on this outright. That level of wealth inequality is a source of massive societal problems, whether the method that allowed this distribution to happen was ethically legitimate (ie, not theft) or not.
I think my problem here is that finding a palataple solution. I think, that is to say in my opinion we’ve experimented sufficiently with forced wealth redistribution enough to know that its a suboptimal. I know that’s likely a point of contention, but I believe that we have enough historical data on the subject to know its consequences — although it should be noted that there are degrees of wealth redistribution even within places such as the USA. I don’t know at the moment whether the effects, economic and societal, are linear with the level of wealth redistribution.
Here is a concrete, absolute fact of Capitalism, it has reduced worldwide poverty more than anything else ever has. So through the effects of Capitalism there are less and less people living in extreme poverty at rates that are higher than ever before in human history, and the rate is increasing. However, at the exact same time the gap between the poorest and richest groups is also increasing. Now, the higher the gap the greater the tension in society. The magic trick would to somehow keep the ability to pull people out of poverty but reduce the gap between the levels without damaging Capitalisms positive effect on overall poverty. I think a lot of the time when people attack Capitalism they are thinking primarily of the wealth gap, which is a fair critism that does need to be addressed somehow.
This a practical problem, however, because actually pulling wealth away from the wealthy is difficult because the wealthy are best at retaining wealth, that is, they have the actual means to move around or hide money, they can choose where on the planet to live, etc. Then there is the fact that high taxation has a strong negative effect on success on a business. Now I know this from experience that taxation makes running a small business very difficult, it limits your income, it limits your customers ability to purchase your goods or services, it is an extreme challenge to operate under high taxation. Let me briefly talk some numbers here, about half of Canadians work for small businesses, where a small business is defined as 5 to 100 employees, with 41 percent of small business having less than 20 employees.
So here is the problem, only about 1 in 10 small business actually become successful, yet they are a absolutely critical component of a wealth. I’m going to suggest that anything that makes this more challenging is going to have a strong negative effect on wealth generation. Keep in mind here these are small businesses, they can’t hide their money overseas, they can’t move their operations to more tax friendly locations. Just like the middle class bears the burden of overall taxation, the small business suffers the most from taxation. “Tax the rich” is a strategy that has never worked because the rich are too mobile to say nothing of their political influence.
So the challenge of inequality is to somehow enable small businesses to succeed and grow, and thus employ more people, but somehow narrow the wealth gap. Placing some kind of limit of someones wealth will just be worked around and evaded, having the state steal ownership has drastic and highly negative effects on that business and generally destroys its profitability, unions have their own sets of problems once they get to certain sizes they essentially become businesses themselves with all the faults and problems of anything else, they also drive up prices and damage ability to be competative. Remember there is a balance here between income and price, if prices go up at the same rate as your income then you’ve effectively made no progress at all. Not to put to fine a point on it, but economics is complicated.
I agree that the wealth gap cannot be ignored indefinitely. At some point it will become unmanagable and things will turn ugly, perhaps even to very literal class warfare. Definitely not something we want to see. So look, my disagreement with Socialists on this topic isn’t that the wealth gap isn’t a problem, its in implementation, I don’t think that wealth redistruction is practical solution even if I didn’t have major ethical issues with the process. So I’m going to leave that here, because I don’t have a solution either, in this case I know more about what doesn’t work than what does.
Real quickly, the last point is just about socialist effects on wealth, some quick charts for those who point to European semi-socialist economies as examples of successful wealth redistribution. Please do note that these are still capitalist economies, but with greater levels of wealth redistribution. This is 2016 data. There is a huge difference here.
So as a final comment, I think that most socialists and I are talking about the same problems, but we are just discussing different solutions. No one on the right is saying poverty is good, no one is saying the wealth gap is good. I think you’ll find very, very few people actually like or support big businesses that have more political influence than the voters. Theses are problems that are absolutely on the forefront of our philosophies. And hey, if you guys manage to figure out some kind of solution be sure to share it with us.