HOW DOES INDIVIDUALISM PROTECT THE COMMON MAN
FROM POWERFUL CORPORATIONS?
© 2005 by G. Edward Griffin. Published October 10.
The following letter was received by a subscriber:
I have read almost everything on your [Freedom Force] site as well as The Creature from Jekyll Island, and I have come to align myself very strongly with the ideology of individualism. There is one problem, though, that stands out as a major issue. ... Looking back into history, such as the turn of the last century, we see the horrible conditions that workers and other “common” people were in. 16 hour work days, 6 day workweeks, child labor, extremely low pay, and all with the underlying knowledge that if you got hurt or sick and couldn’t work for a short period of time, you were fired, which probably caused instant debt that could never be escaped. People worked until they were too old to enjoy life, then wasted away on either family charity or in a small shack.
There are certainly exceptions, but this dominion by the corporations is very much a parallel of what you are trying to stop from happening due to the collectivist model. Yet, your Creed of Freedom and the message you convey consistently is that unbridled business will solve everything, that any government checking outside of things that are specifically unconstitutional is bad. I understand that, but at the same time, I can’t believe that businesses will be magically charitable and kind. The people who run businesses are, as you know, much the same as the people who run banks. Even if we put a whole new generation of Boards in, they would quickly be corrupted. Small businesses may be generous, and for high-tech and highly skilled jobs, there will be competition and respect. But for the majority of jobs today, and any jobs they can find that are cheaper done by a small army of near-slaves than by current and expensive computers and machines, people will be barely able to live.
My point is, what can we do to stop this that isn’t opening a door to collectivism, or have you even considered this possibility? I am not attempting to attack you, but I see that balance is needed in government between the state and the businesses, else one will dominate the other and the people. I feel this is an important issue that needs to be addressed as soon as possible, lest we succeed on one front and be defeated from behind.
This is my reply:
Anyone who has contemplated the plight of the common man throughout history cannot help but be shocked by the terrible conditions under which they lived. However, as we recoil from these images, we must be careful not to jump to conclusions about looking to government for a solution. If we examine that history carefully, we quickly realize that it often was government in one form or another that was the cause of these conditions. Even the onerous corporations to which you refer were created by government and given privileges and powers that made it possible for them to avoid the rigors of competition. Government also participated in their profits either as shareholders or tax collectors. One must not be lured into thinking that governments and corporations are totally separate. In today's world of collectivism, corporations are extensions of government power – and vice versa – the two merging together into a network of state-sponsored cartels.
You said that dominion by corporations is very much like what we are trying to prevent in the collectivist model. However, this dominion is the collectivist model. That's the point that many people miss entirely. They think that corporate dominion and government dominion are opposed to each other when, in truth, they are dependent on each other. They are one in the same.
You correctly point out that heads of corporations are no different than heads of banking institutions, to which we should add that heads of governments are of exactly the same ilk. Any group of men, if given monopolistic power (which cannot endure without government favoritism) eventually will use that power for their own aggrandizement – and the common man will always come out on the short end.
There is a temptation to think that, because we now live in a "democracy" where the common man theoretically has political power over those who rule, things are different. We take comfort from the thought that, since the common man now controls his own government, he can rely on that government to protect his best interests. In the early days of the American Republic and in a few other parts of the world at the end of the 19th Century, there may have been justification for that belief; but in today's world if there is anyone left who still holds to that fantasy, all I can say is: wake up, smell the coffee, and observe world events. We are moving into the final stages of global totalitarianism – all under the leadership of political figures supposedly chosen by the common man.
So long as collectivism is the governing ideology within a society, its government will always become an oligarchy of cartels and special interests that have been granted monopolistic power by the state under the justification that this is the greatest good for the greatest number. In other words, the common man will always be exploited by the ruling elite, and he will be told that it is in his best interest. The saddest part is that he will believe it.
In searching for an answer to this dilemma, the first step is to realize that there may not be a perfect solution – at least not in the sense that it will produce 100% satisfactory results and be 100% fair to all parties instantly. It is natural to seek perfection. We all want a perfect mechanism; but the problem is that man. himself, is not perfect, and no matter what formula we design, it must be implemented by human beings, each with goals and agendas, many of which are highly competitive. This is true even among those who most loudly condemn the competitive nature of man and of private enterprise. One will look in vain for greater examples of ruthless and often murderous competition than can be found between the various factions of Leninists in their struggle for supremacy. Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, and others too numerous to mention are shocking examples of total competition against anyone challenging their power – all the while condemning so-called capitalists for "unbridled competition" in the market place.
Until mankind becomes perfect (which is never) and until human nature is drastically altered (which will occur on the same date), we must seek the best solutions realistically possible. That, incidentally, is not a bad concept. If based on the principle of freedom, this formula already has been proved to be a good model. It may not produce results fast enough for our liking, but it does, nevertheless, produce results and, in the long run, they will be very close to the ideal. The most critical ingredients are time and patience and, of course, freedom-of-choice.
Who is the most idealistic person: The one who advocates a solution that is perfect in theory but not achievable, or the one who advocates one that is not perfect but is the best that can be achieved? Who is the true idealist: The one who advocates creating a society where there would be no criminals or psychopaths and, therefore, a society with no police department, no locks on doors, and no means to protect ourselves against intruders? Or is it the one who says this ideal is not realistic and, therefore, we need a police force and we must provide for the security of our homes and families?
Incidentally, belief in the ability to alter human nature is one of the assumptions behind Marxism and Communism: A future utopian society in which the nature of man will be perfected – purged of all competitive impulses – and where even government will no longer be needed. Marx said: "The state will wither away." Is this true idealism? Could it ever be achieved, even at the cost of executing hundreds of millions of people who are not yet "perfect?" After 80 years of real-life experience in Russia, China, and many other parts of the world where the Communist ideal was applied, the question has been answered. The results were mass graves and loss of human dignity. Instead of withering away, these states have grown to monstrous proportions. There are Marxists and there are idealists, but there are no Marxist idealists – because the so-called ideal is not an ideal at all. It is a mirage.
Let's look at it from another perspective. Who is the greater idealist: The one who says: In a perfect society, all politicians are honest; therefore, government should be based on the assumption that politicians are trustworthy, and it should be illegal for citizens to question their integrity? Or is it the one who says that political power tends to corrupt even the best of men; therefore, politicians should have legal restraints on their power, and the citizenry should be constantly vigilant to the possibility of corruption?
The true idealist does not sit in an ivory tower theorizing about how things might be or should be. He walks the streets of everyday life and understands that, because human nature itself is not perfect, solutions to social problems often must be less than perfect also. What we should seek is, not some abstract theoretical perfection, but something that is the best that realistically can be achieved within the confines of human dynamics. If we can achieve that goal, then we have reached the true ideal.
On the question of using government to protect the best interests of the common man, it must be remembered that the protection of property is one of the proper functions of government, and that includes the enforcement of contracts, so the government has a definite role to play in that sector. Any step beyond that function, however, would be contrary to the interests of the common man because inevitably it would shift economic power to special interest groups that can outbid the common man for the loyalty of politicians.
Within this framework of limited government presence, the forces of supply and demand will slowly but surely raise the standard of living for the common man – just as it has in the past. The poor working conditions you described are horrendous, but only in terms of our expectations today. At the end of the 19th Century, most of the masses of Europe lived in such abject poverty that they considered a 16-hour day with a small, regular paycheck to be a huge improvement over their previous condition. People flocked into the cities to snap up these jobs and escape near starvation. The same was true to a lesser extent in the industrial cities of North America. It is still true in large parts of Africa, Asia, and South America.
But this was just the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Over time, the standard of living and working conditions for the common man gradually improved, and this happened, not by government edict, but because employers had to compete in the labor market to attract the best qualified workers. Even those with no skills benefitted. One of the best examples is the introduction of the assembly line at the Ford Motor Company. For Henry Ford to achieve his goal of becoming a multi-millionaire, he had to innovate production methods that, although they eliminated the need for skilled craftsmen who made parts by hand, also led to mass production techniques that required the hiring of thousands of unskilled workers – and at rates of pay they had never dreamed of receiving prior to that. The skilled craftsmen, instead of being put out to pasture, were upgraded to creating machine tools and supervising assembly lines, which resulted in higher pay for them and fewer hours of work. The new techniques allowed Ford to produce automobiles at amazingly low prices; and, for the first time in history, factory workers actually could afford a car they helped to build.
Henry Ford did not do this because he was compassionate and generous. He did it to make money. He was a demanding employer, and workers feared his wrath. However, the forces of supply and demand for labor were beyond his control, and he had to submit to them to achieve his goal. Ford got rich, common men working on his assembly line enjoyed an increase in their standard of living, and millions of common people were finally able to enjoy ownership of an automobile.
None of this could have been accomplished by government decree. Any attempt by government to bring this about would have hampered or destroyed it altogether. It took time – much longer than anyone in an ivory tower would have liked – but it happened, and it happened in the context of freedom, not coercion.