On my post entitled, “Keep Your Eye on the Ball,” someone, possibly Leonard Peikoff, made the comment, “How have big corporations done you wrong? Government sticks its nose in everything.” Although the second part is so vague as to be devoid of meaning, the first part is a valid question. How have big corporations done me wrong? After all, principles are nice, but why waste time inveighing against something that has no practical impact on our lives? While it’s true that Exxon has never sent goons to rough me up or burn down my house, I think it’s also true that many huge corporations have had a perverse influence on the lives of most Americans.

To be clear, a business in itself is no better or worse than the people it comprises—at least to a certain point. There are plenty of people who make good money running good businesses. And I rather like the idea that there are people trying to get rich by making our lives better in some way. However, there is a point at which a company can get so large as to distort the free market. This can essentially happen in two ways: either it can control market directly by, say, giving away their crappy software for free in order to drive a better but smaller competitor out of the market, or it can use its vast resources to influence legislation in its favor. For example, a University of Kansas study released earlier this year showed that money spent on lobbying garnered a 22,000% return in tax breaks. I’m pretty sure private citizens don’t have that kind of power. Otherwise I would be eager to send in a dollar to secure my $22,000 tax refund. This kind of influence results in a shift of the tax burden onto people with relatively little money.

Perhaps the example that makes me the angriest is GM’s role in dismantling public transportation. In the 1920s and 1930s, only about 10% of Americans owned cars so GM bought up rail-based public transit companies across the country and junked them. They replaced them with buses and eventually cars. They didn’t do it alone; they had help from Standard Oil and Firestone, among others.

Now there are very few places in the U.S. where one can live without a car. And once again, the burden is shifted to the individual. Owning a car is virtually a necessity, an expensive, dirty necessity. If you happen to find yourself bored at work, try calculating how much of your day is spent paying for your car. That means, figure out how much it costs to pay the note, the insurance, the gas, the maintenance every month, divide that by how much you earn every month and multiply it by how many hours you work a day. Then, as a bonus, add in all the time you spend sitting in traffic, any repairs you’ve had to pay for out of pocket and any suffering you’ve had as the result of an accident. It’s probably a lot. And the worst part is that you don’t really have a choice. Thanks GM, and by the way, how are you doing these days?

The perverse influence of huge corporations is a subject that has filled many volumes and now one excessively long blog post. Healthcare is in the spotlight now, and part of the problem is that health insurance companies are so huge that they can buy a lot of political influence and do pretty much whatever they want. As Congress tries to sort out this mess, certain segments of the populace will no doubt continue to cry, “Government sticks its nose in everything,” and, of course, “Socialism!” But free markets aren’t free; the cost is either in regulation by government or exploitation by firms. I can always vote against my government but at the moment, there is nothing I can do about my health insurance premiums.

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