“There once was a time in history when the limitation of governmental power meant increasing liberty for the people. In the present day the limitation of governmental power, of governmental action, means the enslavement of the people by the great corporations, who can only be held in check through the extension of governmental power.”
– Theodore Roosevelt
I’ve seen this meme, or some variation, floating around social media a lot this week. I guess it’s supposed to prove that Bernie Sanders is right and we need the government to control all these out of control corporations that control the government. I am assuming that it is supposed to carry more weight because Teddy Roosevelt was a republican, so republicans must think what he says makes sense. Well it doesn’t. It reeks of 100 year old garbage, said by a garbage president, and would only make sense to people who don’t bother to think about the words they read beyond the mouth that those words came from. In other words, a typical Bernie Sanders supporter.
So what’s so wrong with this statement? Let’s break it into its parts to find out.
The first sentence is ok. “There once was a time in history when the limitation of governmental power meant increasing liberty for the people. ” That makes sense. When you limit the power of the government, the people under that government are freer. That is to say, a less powerful government would have less authority to make rules that would affect your life.
The second sentence is the problem. “In the present day the limitation of governmental power, of governmental action, means the enslavement of the people by the great corporations, who can only be held in check through the extension of governmental power.” This is a nonsensical statement. To explain why we first have to understand what a corporation is and does, generally, and the part the government plays in the role of a corporation.
A corporation is an independent legal entity owned by the people who have invested money into the business. These people are called shareholders. Usually, there are a main group of people that decide which direction to take the business of the corporation in order to make the most money for the shareholders. These people are called the board of directors. When people sue corporations, they are not suing the shareholders or even the board of directors, they are suing the actual corporation, which is legally considered a person. Some people have a problem with this, I don’t. The goal of a corporation is to make money for its shareholders. No more, no less. They have a self-interest in making the government work for them and they are very good at doing just that. I have a huge problem with that.
A government is wholly responsible for the existence of a corporation. Governments rely on experts in various areas of life for the purpose of regulating commerce for a variety of purposes. Since the government is not an expert at anything really, it makes sense that they would rely on bankers to draft banking regulations, and manufacturers to write regulations for manufacturers and farmers to make farming regulations. Of course, the experts writing the regulations have an interest in writing them in such a way as to make competition from new ideas easier to battle. New business regulations are easy to afford if you are already rich, it’s the little guy with a great idea that will have trouble getting off the ground due to these regulations. On top of these regulations, governments pass laws allowing people to copyright and trademark their ideas so that no one else is able to use them to improve on the products or ideas being protected by the government. The truth is that without government corporations would not exist.
So why the second sentence in Teddy’s quote nonsensical? Well, because without corporations the government could still function as it does today, but without the government corporations could not function as they do today. Corporations, at the end of the day, just want to sell you stuff. They can’t force you to buy their products unless a government helps them to create a monopoly, like with your internet/cable providers or your healthcare options. At the end of the day, you can tell the corporation no. With governments, they are able to write laws that force you to act in a certain way and to deem your behavior illegal, even when you are not hurting others. If you tell the government no, bad things will happen to you.
I ask you, which entity is more dangerous? The one with the power to control your life or the one that wants to sell you stuff? Is it a rational position to say that governmental policies have made corporations too powerful, so we need more governmental policies to make them less powerful? Wouldn’t a simpler solution be to eliminate the governmental policies that made them too powerful in the first place?
If it is a true statement that when a government is smaller people have more freedom, then making the government bigger to deal with a problem strictly created by the government cannot by definition make you freer and to the contrary, will make you less free. The truth is that you have much more control over the corporation than you do over your government. You vote for an American president once every 4 years, an American senator once every 6 years and an American congressman once every 2 years. We vote for and against corporations on an almost constant basis with our dollars. Corporations fear you more than your government does and it’s not even close.
When you hear politicians speak about the problems with big business controlling the government, listen to make sure their solutions are not making government bigger. When they start sentences with: “We will make those corporations…” what they really mean is that “We will make the government more powerful.” When the government gets bigger corporations get more powerful, no matter what they tell you. Who do you think is going to write all those anti-corporation laws?