Feed the greed
by Ari Armstrong
The following article originally appeared at Boulder Weekly on June 23, 2005.
Dressy Bessy, a fun-rocking Denver band, released a new album on June 17. Great show at the Gothic. On my way out, somebody handed me a flyer for AM 1190, a Boulder station that listed the concert as a featured event. The flyer read, "Don't feed corporate media greed."
Radio1190.org states, "Jacor Communications donated KVCU (then KBCO) to the University of Colorado Foundation, Incorporated at the end of 1996." Cufund.org notes "the University of Colorado Foundation is a privately governed nonprofit corporation." So I guess corporations are OK, so long as they aren't "greedy." By the way, Radio 1190 will be happy to accept your sponsorship dollars or your $50 per month donation to help finance its "small but dedicated paid staff."
And the station encourages the purchase of all kinds of corporate-produced music albums. New York lists Dressy Bessy's new label, Transdreamer Ltd., as a "domestic business corporation." Still, I fed the corporate greed and purchased two copies of the album, Electrified.
Yet corporation-hating is not merely a pastime of college students indoctrinated by leftist professors. Liberty Book Shop, which sells books about guns and libertarianism, claims "the corporate warehouse only stocks books produced by the cocktail-party socialist poseurs retained for this purpose by a handful of huge German-owned corporations in New York City and other such dens of perdition -- editors who won't even READ books that challenge the accepted myths of statism, let alone PUBLISH them."
My favorite TV show is Firefly, on which the upcoming movie Serenity is based. Here's how Neva Chonin describes the premise for the San Francisco Chronicle: "Firefly is a space Western set 500 years in the future, in the aftermath of a civil war between rebels known as Independents... and a tyrannical conglomerate called the Alliance. The Independents lose the war, and under Alliance control, corporations rule openly..." And Firefly was produced by corporations.
My wife works for a small corporation in Boulder County. Earlier this month, we invited over some of her co-workers to watch The Corporation on video. Unfortunately, the movie avoids the best arguments for the other side. The movie makes a couple passing references to the good things corporations do, yet it mostly avoids the benefits and details only horror stories.
In essence, what is a corporation? People have to produce goods and services in order to survive and live high-quality lives. Many goods and services are hard to produce, so people often need to combine their resources. Such cooperative efforts are corporations.
The modern corporation is given many improper legal powers by the state. So when we talk about corporations in today's context, we're not talking about the free market; we're talking about a mixed economy. The movie blurs this distinction and thereby blames capitalism and the free market for many problems created by government manipulation of the economy. Any sensible treatment of corporations must separate out the market need for them based on economies of scale and healthy competition and the improper powers given to them by politicians. Yet The Corporation utterly fails at this task.
Ironically, many of the problems with modern corporations were created by the policies of the left. For instance, anti-trust laws are not used to protect competition; they are used to squash competition. The maze of nonsensical regulations, subsidies and trade barriers imposed by the state encourage larger business structures that can afford armies of lawyers and lobbyists.
The movie's creators praise "common" ownership of property. The movie ignores the fact that government control of property usually maximizes harms to others and destroys the knowledge and incentives necessary to ably produce goods and services. There's a reason why socialism failed and why harms such as pollution (not to mention mass murder) were prevalent and extreme under socialism.
While the movie constantly carps about profits, free-market economist Ludwig von Mises showed that profits convey enormous information about what goods and services people want and about the most efficient ways to produce them.
The best approach is neither so-called "democratic" control of property, nor control of property by tyrants and criminals, but a system that recognizes and protects individual rights, including the right to own, develop and trade property individually or as part of a voluntary organization.
To watch the movie, people drove their corporate-made cars propelled by corporate-drilled gas to my corporate-built condo to watch the video on electronic equipment made by corporations. During the movie, some of us ate pizza and drank beer produced by corporations. The video was sent by NetFlix, another corporation. Stamped on the front of the DVD is "The Corporation (C) Big Picture Media Corporation MMIII." The documentary was produced using corporate-made cameras, automobiles and airplanes. In an interview for the movie, Michael Moore tries to explain why it's OK for him to make boatloads of money working for corporations. But both he and the creators of the The Corporation demonize the very institutions that so profoundly improve their lives and ours.
By the way, Boulder Weekly is a corporation, too.