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Big business v. freedom



Lady Liberty: a symbol of liberty and individual freedom. Time for some redemptive change to help us rediscover it. And to distinguish among the concepts liberal, libertarian, and conservative.

Hollywood always loves a villain. So do politicians of all stripes. For the past thirty years (give or take five) Hollywood producers have selected big business as the villain. Liberal politicians have done it for far longer, beginning with President Theodore Roosevelt. But few people admit one thing: big business cooperates with big government. Only thus can big business corner and capture (not open) so many markets.

Latest big business bully tactic

Two days ago United Airlines gave the world an instructive example. They sued the owner-operator of (Pronounced it “skip lagged.”) That site exploits a flaw the airlines want to hide: sometimes if you want to fly somewhere, you should book, not a non-stop flight to that city, but a one-stop flight laying over in that city. You do this if the one-stop ticket costs less than the direct ticket. (As strange as it might seem, airline tickets do not always cost more if you fly farther. The key is always how many people want to get to that place, not how far away it is.)

So you buy the ticket that lays over in the place you really want to go. You also don’t check any bags. You either carry everything on, or send them ahead. Then you get off the plane at the “layover” airport, and don’t get back on.

United Airlines and the Orbitz reservation company don’t like that. That’s their trade secret. So to keep that secret (as if they could), they sued and seek to shut it down. They also complain the site cost them $75,000. And they seriously expect to get that money back!

The site operator points out the obvious. Everyone who flies often enough, knows about this exploit. But that doesn’t include the public. Or didn’t. Until now.

Big business and captive markets

Mark Horne at Political Outcast picked up the story today. Naturally this story infuriates him. He writes:

If you ever wondered why so many CEOs are such Leftist morons, this should give you some idea. Corporations don’t want customers; they merely settle for customers when they have to do so. They want captives [and not] customers. They want prisoners. They want people forced by the government to use them exclusively for a service or product. In this case, United Airlines and Orbitz want the courts to hammer someone for nothing more than making public information widely available.  They want the government to destroy our ability to make the best decision based on other peoples’ right of free speech and willingness to share that information.

And they [dare] accuse their victim of “unfair competition.” They use free market rhetoric to try to obstruct the free market.

Actually Mark Horne gets it wrong. No advocate of the free market talks about “unfair competition.” By definition, all is fair in competition, as in love and war. Unless the competitor has stolen something. Which has not done.

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But in everything else, Mark Horne speaks correctly. Free markets depend on any customer having perfect, instant access to any and all information (except trade secrets). UAL and Orbitz want to take certain information private. So they rely on a quintessential government tool: censorship. And more broadly, they do want to capture people, not win them.

Oh, about that link Mr. Horne gave: it leads to a story about Warren Buffet deciding to sponsor Hillary Clinton. This same Warren Buffet does not want anyone to build the Keystone XL Pipeline. Because doing so will give oil shippers an alternative to shipping by rail. On Warren Buffet’s trains.

Other big businesses have bought government favors before. Consider General Motors getting the government to bail it out. And why did the government really pay “Cash for Clunkers”? To force people into the new-car market. New cars come from a big business. Used cars come often from a careful owner.

Nathaniel Branden worked (and played) with Ayn Rand for eighteen years. In his first public essay about that partnership, he wrote:

In all the years I [worked] with her I never saw big business do a thing to assist or support Ayn Rand in any way. I would say…for most businessmen her ideas were much too daring, much too radical. She believed in laissez-faire capitalism. She believed in a free market economy, I mean, a free free market economy. An economy in which not only were you to be unencumbered by regulations but so was everyone else. No special favors, no special protections, franchises, subsidies. No governmental privileges to help you against your competitors. Often I’ve had the fantasy of one day writing an article entitled “Big Business Versus Capitalism.”

Or big business v. freedom. Branden never wrote that article. But he always had plenty of material. A pity he never thought about the worst example of big business and special privilege (literally, private law): the Federal Reserve System.

The right way and the wrong way

The Federal Reserve, another big business product no one thinks about

The Marriner S. Eccles Federal Reserve Board Building. Photo: User Cliff1066/Flickr, CC BY 2.0 Generic License

But how do leftists, at least the consistent ones, want to solve the problem? Never mind Hillary Clinton. Like her fellow inconsistent leftists, she pretends to vilify big business while still working hand-in-glove with it. Consider instead Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). She calls for the old Communist solution: abolish private business completely. Have the government run everything. She and others will ask you: do you want those who pull the levers of our economy, to answer to an electorate or to a directorate?

The problem: if electorates could choose “good people” that easily, the Soviet Union need never have collapsed. But it did. In fact, privilege will always plague any effort to run big government “for the good of the people.” Someone will always demand a privilege. And get it.

The right way means making government smaller, and less powerful. And less able to enforce ridiculous orders like the ones UAL and Orbitz want a court to issue against A government having no privileges to grant. Or as Branden said: “no special favors,…protections, franchises, [or] subsidies.”

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Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.

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