This has been rolling around in my head for a while now, and I feel the need to spit it out. Read it, think about it, and take what you will from it. The truth is, I hate arguing, and I’m not very good at it. I don’t expect to change the world — or even your mind — with this; but I do want to write it.
This is a Christian perspective, and I make no apology for using Scripture to back up my views, or from standing firmly on my Christian worldview. However, it is also a “liberal” one, in that most of my Christian friends seem to disagree with my conclusions. So, think whatever you like, but here is my opinion, as it stands now.
On the Wickedness of Humanity
A Christian friend of mine is fond of asking in disbelief when a person is supposed to have amassed enough wealth to go from being just a person to being “evil” and automatically assumed to be stepping on the little people for the sake of his own profit. I see three fundamental flaws with this line of reasoning.
First, a basic tenet of the Christian faith is that all humans are fallen, wicked things, apart from the grace of God. This isn’t a popular thing to say, but it is taught in Scripture. Apart from His working in our hearts, we are slaves to sin, unable to do or act apart from our own ultimately selfish desires. A person doesn’t go from being good to evil because they become rich; their wealth only allows them more control over the rest of us with their existing evil desires. Are there good people who do good, philanthropic things? Of course. But are people fundamentally good? No, I do not believe we are, and Scripture doesn’t teach it. To expect it of people is not reasonable.
Second, a large corporation is not governed by one individual person. It is governed by a body of people (a board of directors, a CEO, and a large number of shareholders), all seeking to protect their own interests. Each person in these scenarios is wise to assume that all others are looking out for themselves, and cannot afford to take an idealistic view of the motives of their fellows. Yes, they are all striving for the ultimate good of the company, because to do otherwise would doom them all, but they are held together not by a web of charity and grace but of selfishness and greed. This web tends to pull at the strands of such motives within each person in it. And despite the onus these words carry with them, this is really the only way things can be. There’s a reason we call it a fallen world.
Third, corporations are simply great machines, built with the goal of generating money. Even the governing structure mentioned above is part of this. There is nothing wrong with this. It is a basic American right to pursue wealth, and one which should not be vilified. Yet, to expect these massive, profit-generating machines and the people who control them to turn from their primary task of wealth generation and become concerned with the well-being of other competing businesses or other sectors of society is to expect more of them than is reasonable. Frankly, it isn’t their job. Yes, corporations and those who run them should be socially responsible, of course, and there are some business gains to be made from doing so, but to expect it of them as a matter of course is to ignore both the underlying wickedness of the men who control them and the purpose for which these machines were created.
Our own government is built on a series of checks and balances, because our founding fathers recognized the untenability of assuming the best in our fellows when these fellows are given power over the rest of us. I do not see why the same Christians who laud the wisdom of our forefathers in this regarding government simultaneously decry any attempt to curtail the actions of corporations who have nearly as much power over our lives, yet far fewer checks and balances.
I ask, not when men suddenly turn evil from because of their wealth, but when they suddenly become saints because of it?
On Voting With Your Wallet
“The market will correct itself,” is another common argument. “People will vote with their money and push corporations to do the right thing.” Again, I see three fundamental flaws.
First, I go back to the wickedness of mankind. Wickedness doesn’t always evince itself in grand actions of evil, but in simple selfish laziness. Can we be certain that enough people will care enough about righteousness and goodness to impact the great corporate machines with their decisions? Most of us can’t even be bothered to vote for the highest office in the country, much less our local elections — how many of us will research the ethics of every business we patronize? In fact, such an undertaking would overwhelm our lives! Not only that, but even if we do discover questionable practices, are we willing to make the sacrifice for the fuzzy good of mankind, or are we more likely to do what makes sense for the betterment of our own families? If majority rules, will the majority make the right choice, or only the conscientious few?
This leads to the second flaw: Do we even have the financial option, en mass, to force ethical practices on corporations? If I can get a shirt from Walmart for half the price I can get it from a local business, do I even have the luxury to choose to support the local business? Can my bank account support those kind of moral decisions? Consider this: Is minimum wage rising in accordance with the moral desires of the people, or with the actual cost of living, sweat shop shirts and all?
Third, despite anti-trust laws, there are some sectors which simply provide us no alternatives. Internet Service Providers are my strongest personal grievance. If I am unhappy with bandwidth throttling or a three-strikes rule, I can’t jump ship and go to another provider. There simply isn’t a viable competitor in my area. Is there one in yours? How can I vote with my wallet when my decision is to either continue paying a company I despise or lose access to the Internet entirely — and with it, the collective knowledge and communication hub of modern mankind (which also happens to be my source of income and my only connection with overseas family)?
Balance. It’s All About Balance.
I can’t stress enough that I don’t believe in the government cracking down and taking control over every aspect of our free economy. History has shown how that turns out. There are rights we should all be guaranteed, from the poorest busboy to the wealthiest CEO.
But history has also shown how the wealthy, when unrestrained, treat the poor, and how the gap widens and oppression results. Really, it makes perfect sense if you accept the tenet that we are all fallen people. It isn’t power that corrupts; it’s corruption that rears its head when we are given power. The motives vary: From fear to greed to simple ignorance — but the result is the same.
This is why our market, like our government, needs to be checked. We are terrified of giving our government too much power, yet we lavish it on our corporate sector. What makes the people in government evil while the people running corporations are not? Make no mistake, money brings power. Why should we give free reign to those who build themselves up in society through wealth, while screaming against any action taken by officials who built themselves up through politics — and, ostensibly, through our own votes?
The market needs checks and balances just like any other powerful force. We must allow them to be put in place — oh so carefully, they must be placed, but they must be there.
There. I’ve said my piece. And if you’ve actually read the whole thing, thanks. Now go make your own decisions as free Americans, whether for good or ill, and God bless the nation that gives us the freedom to do so.