Is it wrong for a government to impose the people’s will upon a business?

I love that Possibly related posts thingy that asserts its presence below many posts.

Some of its choices are funny. Some are spot on. Some reinforce the point I’m trying to make. Others fill in gaps. Others provide balance that may not always be welcomed (by me).

Evidently, one of my posts provoked the Possibly related posts thingy to spit out a link to a post on a blog called “kavips.” The post’s name is Some Big Thoughts Generated by a Small Statement. I don’t know the background of this particular post, but evidently the Delaware legislature was trying to force two companies to work together to build an offshore, wind-driven power generator.

Anyway, the controversy surrounding all that provoked our inveterate blogger to, um, blog about it.

He posed the question:

Is it wrong for a government to impose the people’s will upon a business?

Of course, my (moderate libertarian) answer is simple: It all depends.

From my perspective, there are all kinds of things the government can and does tell companies to do and not to do. But there had better be a very compelling reason to do so.

Our blogger friend was clearly in the mood to wax philosophical and seize a teachable moment:

At first, it seems to go against every libertarian grain deeply embedded within the American psyche. We fought for our right to be free of excess government, and we continually fight that battle to preserve those rights.

If we broke away from our mother country over a tax imposed on our consumption of tea……….how can we justify government intervention into the give and take of what goes on within our businesses?

Now forgive me for making a jump here……but to get to the right answer, we need first to determine who, or what, our government is?

If we take the assumption that our government is an entity imposed upon me by another who has goals differing drastically in a direction from mine, then that government’s intervention could by a stretch, be considered inappropriate at worst, and un-American at best……

I couldn’t quite follow the next patch, although I understood his fuel monopoly scenario and could well imagine my more radical libertarian friends’ answer to his illustration (which answer I probably would agree with).

Finally, he gets to a fundamental question. The terms of which I think he fundamentally misunderstands. Emphasis mine:

So the underlying principle that needs to be settled in order to appropriately answer this question, is this: Is our government elected to represent us…….or our businesses and corporations.

Of course, the answer to that (at least for us non-anarchists) is Why yes!

That wasn’t his answer.

As all should do whenever such questions arise, we should turn our attention to our founding document. In this case, I think attention to the Constitution is appropriate. It begins with “WE, the People.” What It does not say is “We, the Corporation.” In fact, corporations are mentioned nowhere in the original Constitutional document. It would be wise to remember that people vote in every election, whereas, corporations do not.

Therefore when our government has to choose between the corporation and a person, one would always expect the cause of a person to trump that of a corporation. The only leg a corporation has to stand on in this country is …….( and we owe Alexander Hamilton kudos for bringing this up), that the economic well being of a corporation often benefits many far and beyond the one or two individuals in the process of opposing them…………….

Bottom line is this. That in this great country, “WE, the People” should always have our wants, wishes, and wills respected. The only time we get into trouble, is where various factions of ourselves, have opposing wants, wishes, and wills. As a nation, we circumvented this problem by outlining clearly, that indecision would be settled throughout our future, by a flat out vote. Whoever won the majority, would decide the issue.

90% of Delawareans want an offshore wind farm. The majority is obvously there. Delmarva, who by lot, circumstance, and history, happens to be the entitity that currently supplies our power, does not want that windfarm…….

So we vote.

The majority wins.

End of controversy.

In God we Trust……..

The problem with his terms is that he’s treating corporations as if they are abstract entities—operated by Borg-like units, perhaps? Like pieces of paper. I don’t know, debits and credits and balance sheets floating in the ether somehow?

But they’re not. Businesses are not just run by people, they’re owned by people. People work for them. People buy their product. People profit, and not just people whose names are on the letterhead or in board meeting minutes. Schoolteachers and policemen and retirees and families raising children (and, yes, greedy Wall Street types).

But they’re all people. And, together with every other American, they make up The People the Constitution derives its powers from. And to whom our leaders are accountable.

It seems to me—and I’m no scholar on this—that there are two foundational principles, values, that are at the root of the American way of governance. One, the most important of the two, is property. What’s yours is yours and what is mine is mine. And I am free to use my property, to exploit, to leverage, even to dissipate in any way I choose, unless it harms you or your property. I can sell it, trade, develop it. Whatever. But until I sell it to someone, it is mine. Not  yours. Not the state’s.

The second governing principle is contracts. I believe this second principle flows from the first. We can agree to sell or buy or trade our properties. We can trade one aspect of our properties in order to improve another. In doing this, in cooperating in this, we make promises of exchange or performance. Contracts. I don’t know to go into all the different kinds of contracts, or even a few of them. But you get the point.

However (and hopefully this is not merely a misunderstanding based on my early 1970s love of The Paper Chase), contract law seems to me to lie at the heart of constitutions, accountability between government and The People, balance of powers, and so on.

And that’s where we come to my first answer to the question Is it wrong for a government to impose the people’s will upon a business?

It all depends.

Is the power company bound by a contract with its customers (I assume that to be the people of Delaware)?

Is the power company granted the privileges of a monopoly by the state?

That is where the answer lies.

Not in some misunderstanding about whether a corporation is a person.

Of course it is.

ps: As much as I love lawyers—professional and otherwise—I really don’t need to hear from any regarding the difference between persons and corporations in litigation, torts, bankruptcy law and so forth. Those differentiations are legal fictions designed to make things run more smoothly. They have no relevance to the rant at hand. On the other hand, I’d love your lawyerly input on my discussion of foundational principles…

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