Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"Too Big To"...?

First, there were all those banks that needed bailing out because they were "too big to fail."
Yesterday, Rupert Murdoch said that News International was "too big" for him to know what was going on.

While the elder Mr. Murdoch has long had the reputation of being a hands-on manager, pressing for and savoring the scoops scored by the newspapers he had always felt were the soul of his media empire, he said in his testimony that in the case of The News of the World, he had no knowledge of the specifics of what was going on.

He did not know, for example, that his company had paid confidential out-of-court settlements of £600,000 and £1 million to two victims of phone hacking. Nor, he said, did he know that the company was paying the legal fees of Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator under contract to The News of the World who was convicted in 2007 of hacking into the phones of staff members of the royal family.

James Murdoch said he had not known about paying Mr. Mulcaire’s legal fees either, and was “as surprised as you are that some of these arrangements had been made.”

I have a question: if things are getting that out of hand, maybe they're just too big, period?

We've failed at Capitalism 101, which was to abhor the business combinations that stifle commerce and competition. Adam Smith isn't rolling in his grave, he's spinning. The entire check on the capitalist system, the "moral fiber" of the philosophy, was that a) the ownership should be entirely and personally responsible for the activities of the entity which means b) the owners ought to damn well know every detail of the company, from the boardroom to the stockroom.

And it's a good check. People who criticize capitalism aren't criticizing capitalism the philosophy, but capitalism the technology.

Theodore Roosevelt may have been the last American president to truly understand the full dangers of incorporation and business combinations. If Adam Smith is spinning in his grave, Teddy Roosevelt is a fucking turbine in his.

Teabaggers are all about "Big Government,' but the real danger to this nation, to this world, is "Big Business." Big business is beholden to no one except its shareholders and those shareholders don't give a damn about anything but results. There is no morality in running a corporation, no "corporate good citizenship" that isn't subject to torment by any number of people who would as soon tear down the goodwill a firm might establish in the name of that last buck of profit. If it's costing a shareholder a dollar of his dividend, then there had better be a payoff down the road for providing (insert non-monetary benefit here).

Why aren't Teabaggers all over this? Why aren't they rallying about how companies behave outrageously, offensively, irresponsibly, particularly given they want to dismantle any pretense of oversight on the part of government?

I have little problem with Big Government. With Big Government, there is an ultimate review board: the voters. With Big Government, there's sunshine laws and accountability and a loyal opposition that's willing to watchdog agencies to make sure there's as little waste as possible. Tell me, who oversees the corporation? The board of directors is supposed to, nominally, and that worked better when the board members weren't also the executive directors of the company.

Corporations act with impunity, trampling the laws and the civil rights of our citzenry without recourse, without the prospect of punishment of any sort that doesn't justify the initial actions. The corporate credo is "Never ask permission, always ask forgiveness."

And we keep giving it.