Open Letter to Charlie Stross

by Don Boudreaux on December 11, 2010

in Myths and Fallacies, Other People's Money, Politics

You wrote yesterday at your blog that

Corporations do not share our priorities. They are hive organisms constructed out of teeming workers who join or leave the collective: those who participate within it subordinate their goals to that of the collective, which pursues the three corporate objectives of growth, profitability, and pain avoidance. (The sources of pain a corporate organism seeks to avoid are lawsuits, prosecution, and a drop in shareholder value.)

Corporations have a mean life expectancy of around 30 years, but are potentially immortal; they live only in the present, having little regard for past or (thanks to short term accounting regulations) the deep future: and they generally exhibit a sociopathic lack of empathy.

Well now….

While I don’t defend the special privileges that politically influential corporations receive, the entity you describe here is much more like government than like the typical corporation.

Governments successfully pursue growth (look at the data); they’re enormously profitable for those who claw, connive, or charm their way into top political positions (look at history); their operatives infamously sell their souls to avoid the pain of losing the next election (look, for example, at Al Gore’s recent confession of wooing Iowa voters, during one of his presidential bids, with lies about his enthusiasm for corn-based ethanol); their time-horizons never extend beyond upcoming elections (see the previous point); and they are humankind’s hands-down champs at exhibiting “a sociopathic lack of empathy” (look at the bloody annals of history, starting with Robert Conquest’s documentation of the tens of millions of people killed by their own governments in the 20th century alone).

The typical corporation might not “share” my “priorities,” but I’m under no obligation to patronize it.  Not so with the state: it commands, and I obey under penalty of death.  Do you believe this latter arrangement to be better for ordinary men and women than the former?

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux

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