The 99% vs. the 1%, Part Three

The 99% vs. the 1%, Part Three  5/14/13 Note: “99% vs. 1%” is a metaphor for the exploitation of the masses by the powerful few, and rarely refers to the mathematical 1% that is smarter than the other 99%, or richer, or luckier, or whatever. I define the 1% as those who advocate or benefit from government abuse of power. They total much more than 1%.

People often accuse corporations of abusing their “power“.  This rarely refers to a violation of written laws, but some violation of Cosmic Justice, such as not paying workers “enough“, or selling products that are “bad” for us, such as Big Macs.

It is true that some people in business will, if given the opportunity, screw their employees and customers with great abandon, but this sort of behavior is not inherent to just business enterprises. People tend to act in their self interest, and if that means cutting corners and doing it the easy way, ethics and laws be damned, it will happen. Unions, churches, charities, armies, universities, el al and ad infinitum, people will be people, not angels.

Milton Friedman, the famed Libertarian economist, was once accused of being pro-business. He took great umbrage and replied that he was not pro business, but pro free markets.  He then went on to say that businessmen have always been the biggest foes of free markets, and always will be.

When businesses try to do things the easy way, and do it legally, it always involves getting the government to do thier dirty work, impose tariffs or import quotas against foreign competitors. I can’t think of examples of corporations abusing their power, however defined, that doesn’t really mean government abuse of power.

A current example is the recent  natural gas boom in the U.S.  Dow Chemical opposes exporting any of this new-found bonanza because Dow uses a lot of natural gas, and cheap gas gives them a cost advantage in world markets.  Dow has lots of support from the environmentalists, and both of these one per centers want THE GOVERNMENT to ban natural gas exports. How typical.

On their own, businesses don’t have any “power”.  For example, two of the most successful businessmen in America are Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, and Warren Buffett, head of the holding company Berkshire Hathaway. Both are worth $40-50 billion, and neither has a scintilla of power over you or me.

If Gates came into my office, could he force me to erase the Mozilla Firefox browser on my computer and force me to use his lousy Windows browser? Hardly. Berkshire Hathaway has long had a big position in Coca Cola, but could Warren Buffett come into my house and force me to throw out my Dr. Pepper? Of  course not.

Neither one of these billionaire liberals, by themselves or through their corporations, has the power of a Meter Maid when it comes to ordering anybody to do anything. Both men may be in the top one per cent of the top one percent in terms of wealth, but that alone doesn’t put them on my 1% list.  To make my list you need to show a dictatorial impulse.

WalMart, for instance, makes the 1% list of the Occupy crowd for things such as “worker exploitation“ or “causing unemployment” by putting local retailers out of business. In fact, nobody is forced to work at WalMart, and nobody with a gun and a badge keeps customers away from stores that can’t compete with WalMart.  (I note people outraged by WalMart’s sins never start competing stores and hire employees for a “fair” wage, and they all want laws that prevent Walmart from opening new stores, effectively putting government guns and badges in front of Walmart’s doors.)

This is not to say that WalMart is always on the side of the angels. They make my 1% list when they support minimum wage laws. WalMart typically starts workers at more than the minimum, so they support the government increasing minimum wages because it’s more of a negative for their competitors.

Now that the President has proposed increasing the minimum a whopping 24%, from $7.25 to $9.00, nary a peep from  WalMart’s front office. Obama’s proposed increase, you see, is big enough to hurt Walmart, too. Does this mean Walmart will stop supporting the government mandating minimum wages?  Only as long as it’s in their self interest.

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