Arnold Kling  

More Notes for a Debate

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What have I gotten myself into?. You can watch tonight (Friday, January 21st) on C-span. I have never been booed before, but that seems likely. Tim Carney and I will play the role of Christians in this Roman lion theater, as we will be panelists at what amounts to a pep rally against corporate political speech.

I was thinking of presenting a visual, sort of a Venn Diagram. Let my right hand represent corporate power, and let my left hand represent government power. Bring them together so that there is partial overlap. Let the overlapping region represent corporate power reinforced by government power. We can agree that this is bad. Where we will disagree is in whether we worry about corporate power or government power separately.

How can we worry about corporate power separately? Corporate power is fleeting. If I were to read you a list of the 30 companies that were in the Dow Jones Industrial Average from 1959, you would not be frightened at all. They are almost all has-beens. Eastman Kodak? Bethlehem Steel? Chrysler? Alcoa? International Paper?

Hardly any of the top 10 corporations of 30 years ago are still in the top 10 today. But what if you made a list of the top political lobbying organizations? The realtors, AARP, the lawyers, the bankers, etc.

Look at family dynasties. I cannot think of one current CEO of a Fortune 500 company who is the son of a fortune 500 CEO. But in politics, Mitt Romney the failed Presidential candidate is the son of a failed Presidential candidate. Governor Andrew Cuomo is the son of a governor. William Daley...I could go on

Just on more example: Microsoft. In 1980, how many customers did they have? 500? 5000? Fifteen years later, the Justice Department is after them as a monopoly. Fifteen years after that, Microsoft seems like it is struggling to remain relevant.

Corporate power, in and of itself, just does not scare me.

See my earlier notes.

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COMMENTS (16 to date)
Thomas Sewell writes:

Since this is supposed to be all about how it's horrible that corporations can do political speech, perhaps mention sarcastically somewhere about how terrible it is that the ACLU foundation corporations are now able to purchase advertising for their point of view as a result of this terrible decision?

Perhaps some mention somewhere that the solution to political speech you disagree with is political speech of your own, not censorship of groups you don't want to have a voice?

Apparently most of the people at this rally won't have heard either of those points...

scott clark writes:

And there's always reframing the question from corporation's freedom of speech to individuals freedom to hear things corporations might wish to say, a la Robin Hanson.

Mike Gibson writes:

Governments kill more people than corporations do---by a long shot.

Incidentally, I was at panel discussion on WikiLeaks. The guests included Daniel Ellsberg, Clay Shirky, and Jonathan Zittrain, among others. All of these guys bemoaned and lamented that Amazon caved into Lieberman's threats and shut the WikiLeaks server down. They felt it was a corporation's duty to protect free speech. They saw this as a market failure.

But why do we accept a world in which governments have this extra-legal power to coerce? Isn't this government failure?

sourcreamus writes:

From my interactions with liberals it seems that sometimes they define corporate power in non-intuitive ways. For example they may define corporate power as the ability to pollute, or the ability to pay lower wages than the annointed would like.

N. writes:

In my own experience -- and I cannot emphasize this enough -- my progressive friends use 'corporation' synonymously with 'syndicate.' By this I mean that they do not believe that competition serves as a check on corporate power and that government regulation is the only means to do so AND, without irony, believe there is no way for government regulation to favor some corporations and hinder others (stuff like that comes directly from lobbyists for Big Pharma and Big Tobacco and gets snuck in to altruistic bills by sneaky Republican congressmen).

This blog has addressed those kinds of beliefs before, which are exemplified by statements like, 'prices rise when corporations feel greedier,' and 'corporations collude to keep wages as low as possible.'

As near as I can tell, to the liberal segment that I've been exposed to, the word 'corporation' represents one giant monolithic conspiracy.

(Furthermore, Arnold -- if you get booed off the stage, you should start ranting about how 'they called you mad at the academy' and shout 'fools! I'll show you all!' before storming out, cackling gleefully.)

S. Kassios writes:

Agree 100%! The recent worldwide financial bailout of the private sector, "proved" the long-standing economic and political power of the governments.

Daublin writes:

To put it another way, no matter how bad you think a company is, shouldn't it be allowed to defend itself? To speak its point of view?

Nick Rowe writes:

Come out fighting. No apologies. "I am diametrically opposed to what most of you believe. You will hate what I have to say. If you are not booing by the time I've finished speaking, then you will have failed to understand what I am saying." is always a good opener.

Ryan writes:

Doc, My only advice is: You say you're a big believer in common law; I say, let those beliefs drive you in this thought exercise and debate.

Also, be aware, that there's discussion in some liberal camps regarding whether conflicting interests at the SCOTUS level were at play in the Citizen United court decision.

On that point, some may bring up as Thomas has a point about the ACLU and you should ask them whether that group is any different than a conservative leaning group whom more or less advocates corporate rights.

And on that point, I (you may want to) say, given our current legal paradigm, I don't see much difference. 'yes' individual liberty fits much more nicely in the framework of what is generally known as common or natural law. We now have that relevant state authority recognize certain other legal entities a.k.a. corporations. It would only follow that legal groups form to protect and ensure the rights of those legal entities are retained. In some sense, given that I'm a relatively strong believer in common law, I tend to agree that advocates who fight for individuals' rights are not the same as those who fight for corporations rights, but given our judicial system, our legal framework, and the judicial systems reliance on precedence I can't say that the two advocacy groups are unequal. And, furthermore, I'd be hesitant to go down that path of deeming certain ties as acceptable versus others.

Steve Sailer writes:

More speech is better than less speech.

John Samples writes:


Check your email. And don't worry so much. Remember they are all against the Second Amendment, at least.

Seth writes:

Good luck. I'm going going to set this on my DVR right now.

Here's something that has worked well with me:

What if I'm right? Seems like you owe it to the people you seem to want to help to at least consider that.

Jacob Oost writes:

If corporations (which is really just a shorthand way of saying "a group of individuals acting voluntarily as one") are seeking political power, it is to bolster their profits. The actual politics are a means, not an end, to them.

The answer is not to try to stop corporate-funded advertising, because you are inhibiting individuals' political rights.

The answer is to minimize government regulations in the first place so that corporations *cannot* try to bend these regulations to their will.

Make it clear to the audience that what corporations want is not a free market, but a regulatory environment they can control. A free market takes away their power. Point out how, historically, grand regulations were always championed by big business so that they might squelch their smaller, less politically-connected competitors.

Point out that, as liberals, virtually all of the regulations they have championed over the years have been captured by corporate interests in this way, either at the beginning or shortly thereafter.

Jacob Oost writes:

Speaking of crony capitalism:

Mark R. writes:

"I cannot think of one current CEO of a Fortune 500 company who is the son of a fortune 500 CEO."

I don't disagree with your general point, but the chairman/CEO of Qualcomm is the son of the founder & former chairman/CEO. Also, the current Ford chairman is the great-grandson of Henry Ford.

Charles R. Williams writes:

Point 1: Freedom of speech is the right to hear an argument as well as the right to make an argument.

Point 2: Would we really prefer that corporations buy off politicians to protect their interests rather than engaging in political discourse.

Point 3: The reason businesses dabble in politics is that the state dominates the economy to the extent that corporations must become politically involved to protect their interests (which are ultimately the interests of flesh and blood people). The role of the state in the economy is too large and it is growing.

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