Saturday, January 23, 2010
Help TigerHawk: Who have been the enemies of business in history, and what have been their arguments or tactics?
I am trying to enumerate the types of attacks on business down the ages, and would love your help in assembling a taxonomy of sorts. What types of people have attacked business or enterprise down the ages (e.g., nobility, intellectuals, labor, and communists), and what arguments (e.g., that business extracts surplus labor) or tactics (e.g., violent strikes, the incitement of mobs, regulation, and confiscation) have they used?
Let 'er fly in the comments.
Hubby Tuck recommends delving into biographies/memoirs of Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. and David Rockefeller, which he has read (see list below) plus Andrew Carnegie (hasn't read), representative tycoons who spent a lot of time and energy and money fighting anti-business government initiatives, fanned among the populace by fellow-traveling members of the media. Lotsa detail in said bios re who attacked them and their rationales.
The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbit by T.J. Stiles
Titan: The Life of John D. ROckefller by Ron Chernow
David Rockefeller: Memoirs
You've probably already read most if not all of 'em.
Well, on rare occasions especially principled libertarians try to take away businesses' subsidies and government contracts for useless stuff. I like those libertarians, though they're few and far between.
If you were to write a book on the business of antibusiness it would be like a James Michener novel, ie, a whole series of stories within the main one, and each with its own fascinating history, plot, characters, groups and movements.
One thread in antibusiness might consider the not unreasonable concern of land agregation where companies or groups alienated vast areas of land to themselves and were eventually broken up with death duties and other land reform legislation.
Another would represent the Luddite story of workers trying to protect their livelihoods/way of life by smashing the new processes as they came in.
Another would be the tremendous loss of faith in organised religion that occurred after WW1.. suddenly you had millions of people adrift from the societies in which they lived and ripe for Communism, New Age movements, back to the land stuff, environmentalism.. these things became ideals and causes that were to coalesce into antibusiness and anteglobalisation.
Now you bring in the guilt thread.. the feeling that we have it too good compared to our ancestors and to vast swaths of the human populations in the undeveloped world.. its no accident that the intellectual well springs of these groups are often the scions of wealthy and well connected families.. and as I write this it seems to me that many of the Muslim terrorists also come from this class.
At a guess I'd say that antibusiness in the 20th and 21st centuries comes mainly from a loss of faith in religion and society.. coupled with over or pointless-education.
Plenty of research has been done over the years regarding "The Great Society" but very few outside the conservative realm realize the devastating effects it had on business in minority communities.
Another generalization would be the strangulating effects labor unions have had on business through the years. Most Labor Unions behave as labor cartels increasing pay wages through limiting hiring expansion.
Another great source are books on economics by Thomas Sowell.
Just a general observation, but sometimes "anti-business" looks a lot 'anti-change' and 'anti-progress' and so in a rather ironic way anti business is fundamentally conservative. Not my kind of conservative, mind you.
I'll be rash and say that business and the arts are often the most dynamic elements of society. New insights and opportunities are threatening to some and not embraced by all.
Business is just sometimes the fall guy for larger currents in society. Arts and Crafts, Labor and Environmental movements are some examples.
Then there is envy. Everybody wants money and success until they see someone else has it and they do not. As I see it, that is the essence of the latest attempt to change the subject from something that isn't going so well, health care, national security, the economy, to something that arouses anger and might create a social force, in this case hate.
Meanderingly yours this evening,
The easy Anti-Business meme is the Marxist. Upon ascending to the position of power, the good Marxist will seize the wealth of the Proletariat, and kill/imprison/exile them. At that point, the idealist Marxist now has a factory/property, and attempts to run it in a way consistent with Marxist dogma. After a period of time where the resource decays in usefulness due to the belief that water can be made to run uphill if you only dump enough money into a hole, the Marxist mellows a bit, and gets somebody who knows what they're doing to manage. This manager must be paid well, or they will go manage some other better-paying project, but the pay needs to be hidden as something other than money. Perhaps special schools for their children, nicer houses, better food, etc... And after a certain time, the manager of the property looks an awfully lot like the guy that got thrown off it in the first place. (See Farm, Animal by Orwell, George)
Jesus would be the main example. He told his followers to give away all their worldly goods and rely for sustenance on whatever turns up.
He also (according to the story) physically attacked the trading stalls in the Temple.
Many other religious figures have advocated poverty as a virtue.
The argument is that any time spent thinking about money, status or possessions is time not spent thinking about God. The famous "Protestant work ethic" is completely opposed to the teachings of Jesus as given in the Gospels. (If the Gospels are mostly fiction, the teachings are those of the authors and fellow Christians.)
Do you count owning and profiting from land as a business?
Over the centuries, most big landowners (who were the aristocracy) have despised "trade". It is cool to inherit a large tract of land and live off the labor of the tenants (or even serfs); it is not cool to start poor and vulgar and amass riches by hard work.
In Britain, this attitude faded somewhat in the late 18C as the landowners found coal mines and other profitable resources on their land. But they were still reluctant to have their daughters marry anyone who was "in trade".
This goes on into the 20C, when the joke was about the Duke's daughter marrying the ignorant American millionaire. The Duke needed the money.
Sowell's "Vision of the Anointed" is outstanding on recent attitudes. Going back in history, merchants have generally been scorned and d'serided, in Classical Greece and Rome, the medieval Christian world, in Japan and china, etc.
it is only in Britain with Adam Smith's work that business and trade got any respect...
I think big corporations will collaborate with politicians to inhibit competition and make the market less free, through the passage of legislation and regulations that are to the disadvantage of their competitors, especially smaller businesses and entrepreneurs--degrading capitalism into crony capitalism.
Agree with others here in noting that anti-business, anti-liberal thinking has deep roots. Think about medieval guilds, Hindu castes, etc.
These are the tame variants. Most of human history is dominated by people forcefully taking from others and declaring it noble.
Folsom's Myth of the Robber Barons (http://www.amazon.com/Myth-Robber-Barons-Burton-Folsom/dp/0963020315/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1264422073&sr=8-1) is pretty insightful on the Anti-trust/Monolopy hijinks in the late 18c.
Morris' The Tycoons (http://www.amazon.com/Tycoons-Carnegie-Rockefeller-Invented-Supereconomy/dp/0805081348/ref=pd_sim_b_30) is good too.