Liberals and conservatives finding common ground?

I was struck by the comments on yesterday’s post about a law being considered by the Senate that would require all food producers to be registered and regulated by the federal government, something many people fear would devastate the local foods movement in favor of the big agribusiness corporations. I noticed that known liberals and known conservatives who read this blog both AGREED that this would be a bad law.

DonS, reliably on the conservative side of most issues, put it this way:

As for the larger impact of this bill, maybe it will cause liberals to wake up a bit as to the effect of runaway government regulation. Though it often seems like something which reins in those nasty, greedy businesses, most often it is the result of an unholy cabal of big government and big business, erecting every higher barriers of entry for a particular market to keep smaller competitors out.

He’s showing his conservatism, of course, but it occurred to me that liberals tend to fear big business, while conservatives tend to fear big government. But the prospect of “an unholy cabal of big government and big business” is something that both sides would decry. Could the problem be “bigness” in general, that huge institutions of every kind tend to become dehumanizing, taking on a life of their own and running slipshod over ordinary individuals, and just getting too powerful for everyone’s own good? (Perhaps there are exceptions, safeguards, and checks and balances. But still. . . .)

What would be some other common ground that conservatives and liberals might be able to agree on? Maybe we can solve our nation’s polarized politics right here on this blog. (The idea is not to compromise either ideology or to “just get along.” Let’s let liberals and conservatives both be that way, continuing their opposition to each other. What I’d like for us to do is to find areas in which they already, if we look closely, might agree.)

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Winston Smith

    It depends on whether you are talking about big government conservatives and liberals or small (anti-) government conservatives and liberals.

    To take just one example: antiwar liberals say “stop the war; bring the troops home.” National greatness liberals say “make the world safe for democracy; Obama will be a great president if he can be a war president like Lincoln or FDR.” Big government conservatives (including neocons) reflexively support anything the military does; if the military invaded Canada, hawkish conservatives would paint anyone who objected as a commie pinko who hates the troops and hates America. Small government (Ron Paul) conservatives would say that America can’t afford 900-some military installations in over 130 countries and two endless, pointless and incredibly expensive wars; bring the troops home.

    The result? Big government folks and small government folks end up agreeing with each other.

  • Winston Smith

    It depends on whether you are talking about big government conservatives and liberals or small (anti-) government conservatives and liberals.

    To take just one example: antiwar liberals say “stop the war; bring the troops home.” National greatness liberals say “make the world safe for democracy; Obama will be a great president if he can be a war president like Lincoln or FDR.” Big government conservatives (including neocons) reflexively support anything the military does; if the military invaded Canada, hawkish conservatives would paint anyone who objected as a commie pinko who hates the troops and hates America. Small government (Ron Paul) conservatives would say that America can’t afford 900-some military installations in over 130 countries and two endless, pointless and incredibly expensive wars; bring the troops home.

    The result? Big government folks and small government folks end up agreeing with each other.

  • Dan Kempin

    I, personally, have enjoyed this blog as a place where people wrestle with very different perspectives while holding to the commonality of Christ and His Word. Seriously.

  • Dan Kempin

    I, personally, have enjoyed this blog as a place where people wrestle with very different perspectives while holding to the commonality of Christ and His Word. Seriously.

  • Joe

    Hear, hear – Dan.

    I think the issue that unites is the alliance. I don’t begrudge a business for getting big if it has done so by making a better product or selling a better service than its competitors. That’s just the market at work, that’s real capitalism. It forces competition and generally works really well for all. However, when they use the gov’t to manipulate or constrict the market to their advantage the market forces that normally force companies to create both better and cheaper products/services are destroyed. Societal benefits are decreased. No one is pressured to actually do better or lose out to the competition. It also spurs a mis-allocation of resources. Resources that should be put into R&D are instead spent on keeping the laws rigged to their favor.

    One common error that may who call themselves conservative make is to assume conservative = pro-business. It does not it = pro-market.

  • Joe

    Hear, hear – Dan.

    I think the issue that unites is the alliance. I don’t begrudge a business for getting big if it has done so by making a better product or selling a better service than its competitors. That’s just the market at work, that’s real capitalism. It forces competition and generally works really well for all. However, when they use the gov’t to manipulate or constrict the market to their advantage the market forces that normally force companies to create both better and cheaper products/services are destroyed. Societal benefits are decreased. No one is pressured to actually do better or lose out to the competition. It also spurs a mis-allocation of resources. Resources that should be put into R&D are instead spent on keeping the laws rigged to their favor.

    One common error that may who call themselves conservative make is to assume conservative = pro-business. It does not it = pro-market.

  • Larry

    “Could the problem be “bigness” in general, that huge institutions of every kind tend to become dehumanizing, taking on a life of their own and running slipshod over ordinary individuals, and just getting too powerful for everyone’s own good?”

    Just for full disclosure I’m conservative and have been all my life.

    I’ve sensed there is common ground in this arena of big business/big government and you’ve nailed it. Again its an issue of getting away from the superficial name (big government/big business) and to the essence and principle of the thing (a rose is a rose by any other name). Especially the dehumanizing part of it which both see in those two entities. To take it a step further when you see a liberal business or something typically associated with liberal like “organic food stores” really what they are getting back to is the local individual farmer/entrepreneur. Typically when they want government to stop big business (big government interference in conservative lingo) it’s to keep big companies from basically ruining everything from a local spirit of entrepreneurship to quality. But the (big) government will just be replacing the “big business”. We are seeing this very thing now as we speak in this administration. In fact I would propose that liberals will learn this lesson on their side of the house, that government really means “big government” and its really a different label on the very principle they hate in the first place (big business), before conservatives will learn that what often goes off as entrepreneurship is really big business and big business is simply another name for big government in principle. There are some aspects of “on the ground” liberals, local businesses for example, that are more entrepreneurial than some of what conservatives back, like “big business”. But then the liberal misses the boat when they run to “big government” for the fix to “big business”.

    We already see that with health care prior to recent healthcare development. Dehumanized beaurocracy is dehumanizing beaurocracy no matter what one labels it BIG business or BIG government. When we talk to our “private company” health insurance agent or the State regarding an issue the same dehumanized “service” is offered. In fact the same level of utter frustration and cuss words tend to arise. Whose blood doesn’t boil when you are on the phone and can’t get a human being for what seems to be an eternity and then when you do get a human being its some person being an automatron and basically talking to you in such a dehumanized fashion. And anyone that has worked in a big business or a government agency knows the common nature of the two even at the employee level.

    Perhaps it’s the dehumanizing part that is the greatest level of agreement in which we see both big government and big business increasingly employing that both sides hate. I drive my wife crazy when I complain at Walmart or the chain grocery store and we have to go through the “self check out” and hear the computer at the end after we’ve checked all our own groceries, bagged all our own groceries and inserted the money into the money slot say warmly, “Thank you for shopping at Walmart”. Does that not sound so warm and loving and genuine coming from a computer, can’t you just feel the human warmth and appreciation of the business! So perhaps the dehumanizing of nearly everything is the greatest level of common ground for both cons and libs. Perhaps it’s more that, dehumanization of things, than the “big” part. The “big” is merely the means for the dehumanizing of all things.

    And this enterprise of big and dehumanizing at length, be it business or government, destroys true vocations. It exchanges an artisan for paper shuffler, a doctor for an HMO beaurocrat (or government beaurocrat which ever the case ends up) and plastic pressed disposable easily replaceable furniture for hand crafted furniture. Is it any wonder that our modern churches look so plastic and disposable?

    And this brings up, I think, another realm of common ground. Something reformed theologian Francis Schaeffer well identified back in the 60s and that is the increased loss of the arts. This is just another dehumanizing thing performed through “big” whatever. Venerable and timeless Bach versus the ephemeral crap served up on something BIG like American Idol or American music in general. Instead of a one of a kind Miles Davis we get a thousand Brittney Spears stamped out in the big dehumanizing machinery. Instead of creative chefs we have fast food. The food industry decades ago use to employ as the main over seer chefs for their products (e.g. Pillsbury). But now to increase their bigness they employ engineers to do the same thing. Gone is the art of the chef for the cheap and tawdry product of the line engineer, and with it the finer product for a more cheap imitation of the product. Instead of fine hand crafted furniture by a skilled craftsmen, we get prefab press board wood chips and assembly instructions. We get this under the guise often sold to us attempting to say what “big business” benefits us, “more things cheaper to more folks now”. But it’s simply as much a façade as the fake wood is. It’s not more things cheaper to more folks now because it’s not more fine hand crafted things by artisans that last (a work of a human being creature of God in his/her vocation), but simply cheap copies, its practically, as much as it can be, the earthly manifestation of Gnosticism. Instead of vocations with real created human beings crafting earthly things, we have automatrons operating the Gnostic production machines. The list could go on and on.

    And then there’s the general confusion of the two, business versus government. Here in Kentucky, for example, the Pope is being sued for all the priests abuse cases. The lawyers tact to get the Pope on the hook and to testify? He’s the CEO of the company in which the priests work and therefore liable. A complete dismantling of the distinction of offices. Is this the beginning of all government leaders being seen as business type positions, and/or all business positions being de facto government positions. Are Presidents CEOs and/or are CEOs Presidents? Are pastors ministers of Christ or CEOs of God Inc. and vice versa? Gone are true distinctions in offices. Is this an inherent evil to our American system? Everything so normalized and leveled and equaled out that nothing is distinct. What a surprise a Kingdom with a King is going to be to many Americans.

  • Larry

    “Could the problem be “bigness” in general, that huge institutions of every kind tend to become dehumanizing, taking on a life of their own and running slipshod over ordinary individuals, and just getting too powerful for everyone’s own good?”

    Just for full disclosure I’m conservative and have been all my life.

    I’ve sensed there is common ground in this arena of big business/big government and you’ve nailed it. Again its an issue of getting away from the superficial name (big government/big business) and to the essence and principle of the thing (a rose is a rose by any other name). Especially the dehumanizing part of it which both see in those two entities. To take it a step further when you see a liberal business or something typically associated with liberal like “organic food stores” really what they are getting back to is the local individual farmer/entrepreneur. Typically when they want government to stop big business (big government interference in conservative lingo) it’s to keep big companies from basically ruining everything from a local spirit of entrepreneurship to quality. But the (big) government will just be replacing the “big business”. We are seeing this very thing now as we speak in this administration. In fact I would propose that liberals will learn this lesson on their side of the house, that government really means “big government” and its really a different label on the very principle they hate in the first place (big business), before conservatives will learn that what often goes off as entrepreneurship is really big business and big business is simply another name for big government in principle. There are some aspects of “on the ground” liberals, local businesses for example, that are more entrepreneurial than some of what conservatives back, like “big business”. But then the liberal misses the boat when they run to “big government” for the fix to “big business”.

    We already see that with health care prior to recent healthcare development. Dehumanized beaurocracy is dehumanizing beaurocracy no matter what one labels it BIG business or BIG government. When we talk to our “private company” health insurance agent or the State regarding an issue the same dehumanized “service” is offered. In fact the same level of utter frustration and cuss words tend to arise. Whose blood doesn’t boil when you are on the phone and can’t get a human being for what seems to be an eternity and then when you do get a human being its some person being an automatron and basically talking to you in such a dehumanized fashion. And anyone that has worked in a big business or a government agency knows the common nature of the two even at the employee level.

    Perhaps it’s the dehumanizing part that is the greatest level of agreement in which we see both big government and big business increasingly employing that both sides hate. I drive my wife crazy when I complain at Walmart or the chain grocery store and we have to go through the “self check out” and hear the computer at the end after we’ve checked all our own groceries, bagged all our own groceries and inserted the money into the money slot say warmly, “Thank you for shopping at Walmart”. Does that not sound so warm and loving and genuine coming from a computer, can’t you just feel the human warmth and appreciation of the business! So perhaps the dehumanizing of nearly everything is the greatest level of common ground for both cons and libs. Perhaps it’s more that, dehumanization of things, than the “big” part. The “big” is merely the means for the dehumanizing of all things.

    And this enterprise of big and dehumanizing at length, be it business or government, destroys true vocations. It exchanges an artisan for paper shuffler, a doctor for an HMO beaurocrat (or government beaurocrat which ever the case ends up) and plastic pressed disposable easily replaceable furniture for hand crafted furniture. Is it any wonder that our modern churches look so plastic and disposable?

    And this brings up, I think, another realm of common ground. Something reformed theologian Francis Schaeffer well identified back in the 60s and that is the increased loss of the arts. This is just another dehumanizing thing performed through “big” whatever. Venerable and timeless Bach versus the ephemeral crap served up on something BIG like American Idol or American music in general. Instead of a one of a kind Miles Davis we get a thousand Brittney Spears stamped out in the big dehumanizing machinery. Instead of creative chefs we have fast food. The food industry decades ago use to employ as the main over seer chefs for their products (e.g. Pillsbury). But now to increase their bigness they employ engineers to do the same thing. Gone is the art of the chef for the cheap and tawdry product of the line engineer, and with it the finer product for a more cheap imitation of the product. Instead of fine hand crafted furniture by a skilled craftsmen, we get prefab press board wood chips and assembly instructions. We get this under the guise often sold to us attempting to say what “big business” benefits us, “more things cheaper to more folks now”. But it’s simply as much a façade as the fake wood is. It’s not more things cheaper to more folks now because it’s not more fine hand crafted things by artisans that last (a work of a human being creature of God in his/her vocation), but simply cheap copies, its practically, as much as it can be, the earthly manifestation of Gnosticism. Instead of vocations with real created human beings crafting earthly things, we have automatrons operating the Gnostic production machines. The list could go on and on.

    And then there’s the general confusion of the two, business versus government. Here in Kentucky, for example, the Pope is being sued for all the priests abuse cases. The lawyers tact to get the Pope on the hook and to testify? He’s the CEO of the company in which the priests work and therefore liable. A complete dismantling of the distinction of offices. Is this the beginning of all government leaders being seen as business type positions, and/or all business positions being de facto government positions. Are Presidents CEOs and/or are CEOs Presidents? Are pastors ministers of Christ or CEOs of God Inc. and vice versa? Gone are true distinctions in offices. Is this an inherent evil to our American system? Everything so normalized and leveled and equaled out that nothing is distinct. What a surprise a Kingdom with a King is going to be to many Americans.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    It’s worth noting that if we could get a quorum of both sides to agree that it’s a bad idea to subsidize large businesses (stadiums for sports teams, tax breaks for new superstores, eminent domain for big businesses, farm subsidies, etc..), we’d get rid of a huge amount of government spending, and make a lot of room for working to fix other big problems.

    It would be especially good to remind both sides that big business LOVES regulations that hamstring smaller competitors while imposing a smaller burden, relatively speaking to the size of their sales, on big business. That’s one reason Wal-Mart campaigns for minimum wage laws and such.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    It’s worth noting that if we could get a quorum of both sides to agree that it’s a bad idea to subsidize large businesses (stadiums for sports teams, tax breaks for new superstores, eminent domain for big businesses, farm subsidies, etc..), we’d get rid of a huge amount of government spending, and make a lot of room for working to fix other big problems.

    It would be especially good to remind both sides that big business LOVES regulations that hamstring smaller competitors while imposing a smaller burden, relatively speaking to the size of their sales, on big business. That’s one reason Wal-Mart campaigns for minimum wage laws and such.

  • Tom Hering

    Personally, I don’t care if a business or government is big or small. I do care that a business of any size be free of deceit, and a government of any size be free of corruption. That a business doesn’t cheat us, and a government doesn’t betray us. I would guess these are expectations that both liberals or conservatives share.

  • Tom Hering

    Personally, I don’t care if a business or government is big or small. I do care that a business of any size be free of deceit, and a government of any size be free of corruption. That a business doesn’t cheat us, and a government doesn’t betray us. I would guess these are expectations that both liberals or conservatives share.

  • Tom Hering

    That last sentence should read “… liberals AND conservatives share.” (Oh, how I wish we had a fifteen-minute window to edit our comments!)

  • Tom Hering

    That last sentence should read “… liberals AND conservatives share.” (Oh, how I wish we had a fifteen-minute window to edit our comments!)

  • sg

    Less government is better for everyone except big business and government employees.

  • sg

    Less government is better for everyone except big business and government employees.

  • Tom Hering

    sg, but what about the robber barons of the Gilded Age, who were happy as pigs in poop when government was much smaller than it is today?

  • Tom Hering

    sg, but what about the robber barons of the Gilded Age, who were happy as pigs in poop when government was much smaller than it is today?

  • Cincinnatus

    Tom,

    You wish for a government without corruption, no matter the size? The problem is that a bigger government, precisely by virtue of its size and attendant power, conduces to the proliferation of corruption. The size of government is directly related to the amount of corruption which characterizes it.

    About robber barons:

    First of all, they weren’t exactly “robber” barons. The most notable such “robbers” were unprecedented philanthropists in their communities and in the nation at large. Consider how many institutions are named after or were funded by Carnegie, for instance. J.P. Morgan _bailed out the government_ at one point. Hardly selfish “Randroid” behavior. Second, who enabled the sheer scale of business in the first place during the Gilded Age? I can assure you that it was not the unrestricted, “invisible” hand of the market. Railroad companies, for instance, were able to run roughshod over their competitors and the American populace generally because the federal government subsidized their acquisition of vast tracts of land, even employing eminent domain to transfer property from private owners to the railroads (a practice upheld by the Supreme Court).

    No, friend, the unholy alliance between the powers of an energetic government and behemoth business has persisted since very nearly the beginning.

  • Cincinnatus

    Tom,

    You wish for a government without corruption, no matter the size? The problem is that a bigger government, precisely by virtue of its size and attendant power, conduces to the proliferation of corruption. The size of government is directly related to the amount of corruption which characterizes it.

    About robber barons:

    First of all, they weren’t exactly “robber” barons. The most notable such “robbers” were unprecedented philanthropists in their communities and in the nation at large. Consider how many institutions are named after or were funded by Carnegie, for instance. J.P. Morgan _bailed out the government_ at one point. Hardly selfish “Randroid” behavior. Second, who enabled the sheer scale of business in the first place during the Gilded Age? I can assure you that it was not the unrestricted, “invisible” hand of the market. Railroad companies, for instance, were able to run roughshod over their competitors and the American populace generally because the federal government subsidized their acquisition of vast tracts of land, even employing eminent domain to transfer property from private owners to the railroads (a practice upheld by the Supreme Court).

    No, friend, the unholy alliance between the powers of an energetic government and behemoth business has persisted since very nearly the beginning.

  • Tom Hering

    Cincinnatus, you made my point for me: it was a federal government much smaller than the one we have now that enabled those big businesses to run roughshod over their competitors and the populace.

  • Tom Hering

    Cincinnatus, you made my point for me: it was a federal government much smaller than the one we have now that enabled those big businesses to run roughshod over their competitors and the populace.

  • Cincinnatus

    No, it was the government enabling big business that permitted businesses to run roughshod over their competitors. I painted a picture in which the government preferentially advantaged big businesses, and even “modified” constitutional rights to do so.

    This is analagous to the current situation in which government regulations and actions almost exclusively abet the practices of big business to the disadvantage of citizens and smaller, local businesses.

    How does that make your point again? The railroad companies flourished so nicely because the government “gave” them land and stifled opposition. Wal-Mart exists only because the government subsidizes an interstate highway system. The financial sector is irresponsible partly because the government mandates unsafe lending practices (i.e., the housing bubble). Factory farms have crushed the family farm because the government subsidizes and protects the former. Business conglomerates in general prosper at the expense of small businesses because they can absorb oppressive regulations, wage controls, etc., as a cost of business while small businesses cannot, not to mention the government’s apparent willingness to “bail out” those firms deemed “too big to fail.” There is no such thing as “too small to fail.” In return for the government’s kindness, big business properly “rewards” the government and its instruments. Big business and big government form a symbiotic, mutually reinforcing relationship. While said relationship is nothing new, it only gets worse with time.

    In any case, if I were starting a small business, I would much rather stake my claim prior to the gilded age, which is when the government decided to limit (read: “befriend”) business.

  • Cincinnatus

    No, it was the government enabling big business that permitted businesses to run roughshod over their competitors. I painted a picture in which the government preferentially advantaged big businesses, and even “modified” constitutional rights to do so.

    This is analagous to the current situation in which government regulations and actions almost exclusively abet the practices of big business to the disadvantage of citizens and smaller, local businesses.

    How does that make your point again? The railroad companies flourished so nicely because the government “gave” them land and stifled opposition. Wal-Mart exists only because the government subsidizes an interstate highway system. The financial sector is irresponsible partly because the government mandates unsafe lending practices (i.e., the housing bubble). Factory farms have crushed the family farm because the government subsidizes and protects the former. Business conglomerates in general prosper at the expense of small businesses because they can absorb oppressive regulations, wage controls, etc., as a cost of business while small businesses cannot, not to mention the government’s apparent willingness to “bail out” those firms deemed “too big to fail.” There is no such thing as “too small to fail.” In return for the government’s kindness, big business properly “rewards” the government and its instruments. Big business and big government form a symbiotic, mutually reinforcing relationship. While said relationship is nothing new, it only gets worse with time.

    In any case, if I were starting a small business, I would much rather stake my claim prior to the gilded age, which is when the government decided to limit (read: “befriend”) business.

  • Cincinnatus

    To make my point in another way, Tom: big business–except in the case of natural monopolies (the only efficient way to provide hydroelectric power in a particular region, for instance, is via a monopoly))–is only possible given big government. The age of big business (including the Gilded Age) is coextensive, coterminous, and simultaneous with the era of big government–at least in the modern era. I’ve begun to explain why, via historical examples, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

  • Cincinnatus

    To make my point in another way, Tom: big business–except in the case of natural monopolies (the only efficient way to provide hydroelectric power in a particular region, for instance, is via a monopoly))–is only possible given big government. The age of big business (including the Gilded Age) is coextensive, coterminous, and simultaneous with the era of big government–at least in the modern era. I’ve begun to explain why, via historical examples, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

  • Tom Hering

    Okay, let me make my point another way by asking: Can smaller governments be thoroughly corrupt? And if so, is corruption directly related to size?

  • Tom Hering

    Okay, let me make my point another way by asking: Can smaller governments be thoroughly corrupt? And if so, is corruption directly related to size?

  • Cincinnatus

    A small government can certainly be corrupt or corrupted, but the chances are quite slim, for the stakes are so small, and the power to be gained so minimal. If government is small, the ambitious and corrupt find no place there. Corruption only happens if there is something to be gained. The Teapot Dome scandal (right there in the midst of your gilded age!) only occurred because the government did indeed have the power to manipulate oil contracts. And even so, aside from ethical concerns, can the people be truly oppressed by a small government, no matter how corrupt, so long as it isn’t intruding into daily life _anyway_ (for such is the nature of small government). Bertrand de Jouvenal is a good read on this question of “power” and “bigness.”

    But we are not interrogating the matter of corruption here. Rather, we are inquiring after the nature and potential problems of a mutual relationship between big government and big business that has been constructed as legitimate. Indeed, the matters we discuss all occur within the boundaries of positive law, at least. There is nothing “shady” or “illegal” about a massive corporation, technically speaking, and the regulations which assist these conglomerates (and consequently harm small businesses and the people generally) are just that: “legitimate” government edicts. Our concern is whether justice, in fact, is served by this positive arrangement.

    I say not, and I say that the simultaneous flowering of big business and big government is not coincidental. Considerations of size and scale–which you are dismissing–are, in fact, integral to this inquiry.

    Was U.S. Steel benefited by the supposed “absence” of government intervention during its heyday? Perhaps, though I could cite examples of where the government aided and abetted that business–on many occasions (who, after all, supplied the steel for the American military in World War II?). But on the other hand, U.S. Steel wasn’t “bailed out” when the natural mechanisms of the market had their say.

  • Cincinnatus

    A small government can certainly be corrupt or corrupted, but the chances are quite slim, for the stakes are so small, and the power to be gained so minimal. If government is small, the ambitious and corrupt find no place there. Corruption only happens if there is something to be gained. The Teapot Dome scandal (right there in the midst of your gilded age!) only occurred because the government did indeed have the power to manipulate oil contracts. And even so, aside from ethical concerns, can the people be truly oppressed by a small government, no matter how corrupt, so long as it isn’t intruding into daily life _anyway_ (for such is the nature of small government). Bertrand de Jouvenal is a good read on this question of “power” and “bigness.”

    But we are not interrogating the matter of corruption here. Rather, we are inquiring after the nature and potential problems of a mutual relationship between big government and big business that has been constructed as legitimate. Indeed, the matters we discuss all occur within the boundaries of positive law, at least. There is nothing “shady” or “illegal” about a massive corporation, technically speaking, and the regulations which assist these conglomerates (and consequently harm small businesses and the people generally) are just that: “legitimate” government edicts. Our concern is whether justice, in fact, is served by this positive arrangement.

    I say not, and I say that the simultaneous flowering of big business and big government is not coincidental. Considerations of size and scale–which you are dismissing–are, in fact, integral to this inquiry.

    Was U.S. Steel benefited by the supposed “absence” of government intervention during its heyday? Perhaps, though I could cite examples of where the government aided and abetted that business–on many occasions (who, after all, supplied the steel for the American military in World War II?). But on the other hand, U.S. Steel wasn’t “bailed out” when the natural mechanisms of the market had their say.

  • Tom Hering

    “A small government can certainly be corrupt or corrupted, but the chances are quite slim, for the stakes are so small, and the power to be gained so minimal.”

    For the power-hungry, power of any size is desirable. Lording it over a small region and population can be quite satisfying for them. (Though, of course, they’ll sometimes want to move on to bigger things. But not always. Plenty of local tyrants out there!)

    “If government is small, the ambitious and corrupt find no place there.”

    You’ve got to be kidding me! You’re not allowed to keep a hookah by your keyboard anymore. ;-)

    “But we are not interrogating the matter of corruption here. Rather, we are inquiring after the nature and potential problems of a mutual relationship between big government and big business that has been constructed as legitimate.”

    Wouldn’t the biggest “potential problem” be corruption?

  • Tom Hering

    “A small government can certainly be corrupt or corrupted, but the chances are quite slim, for the stakes are so small, and the power to be gained so minimal.”

    For the power-hungry, power of any size is desirable. Lording it over a small region and population can be quite satisfying for them. (Though, of course, they’ll sometimes want to move on to bigger things. But not always. Plenty of local tyrants out there!)

    “If government is small, the ambitious and corrupt find no place there.”

    You’ve got to be kidding me! You’re not allowed to keep a hookah by your keyboard anymore. ;-)

    “But we are not interrogating the matter of corruption here. Rather, we are inquiring after the nature and potential problems of a mutual relationship between big government and big business that has been constructed as legitimate.”

    Wouldn’t the biggest “potential problem” be corruption?

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    Well, in a thoroughly postmodern sense, it it not so much “bigness” as “powerful”. When the government and business unite their power to exclude competition, the result is injustice. This is only especially obvious when the industry in question is food production/distribution. Control of food supply is first control over quality of life, because there is no guarantee that such an unholy alliance would produce healthful nourishing food. It is secondly control over quantity of life, because there is no guarantee that such an unholy alliance will continue to make food available. That, my friends, is scary regardless of political perspective.

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    Well, in a thoroughly postmodern sense, it it not so much “bigness” as “powerful”. When the government and business unite their power to exclude competition, the result is injustice. This is only especially obvious when the industry in question is food production/distribution. Control of food supply is first control over quality of life, because there is no guarantee that such an unholy alliance would produce healthful nourishing food. It is secondly control over quantity of life, because there is no guarantee that such an unholy alliance will continue to make food available. That, my friends, is scary regardless of political perspective.

  • Louis

    This why, in one sense, I call myself an Ordoliberal, which is distinct from modern conservatism / liberalism. Government’s task is to regulate for optimal performance, not to control. Of course, one can measure optimal performance in many ways – is it optimal for big business or small, or for the happines of the many vs the few. Interesting questions.

    But down there in the US it seems odd that people still obsess about cthe (wrongful understanding) of the separation of Church and State, whereas the biggest current problem is the separation of Business and State. It is as if while theologians and agnosatics and scientists and artists and philosophers went for each others’ throat in the “culture wars”, an unholy alliance of business and state took over.

  • Louis

    This why, in one sense, I call myself an Ordoliberal, which is distinct from modern conservatism / liberalism. Government’s task is to regulate for optimal performance, not to control. Of course, one can measure optimal performance in many ways – is it optimal for big business or small, or for the happines of the many vs the few. Interesting questions.

    But down there in the US it seems odd that people still obsess about cthe (wrongful understanding) of the separation of Church and State, whereas the biggest current problem is the separation of Business and State. It is as if while theologians and agnosatics and scientists and artists and philosophers went for each others’ throat in the “culture wars”, an unholy alliance of business and state took over.

  • DonS

    Joe @ 3 gets it right. Both conservatives and liberals should be able to agree that being pro-market, not pro-business, is the key. A well functioning market, with free and unfettered competition, aids the little guy, allowing small businesses to start and prosper, and grows the economy, thereby allowing governments to provide necessary social services while keeping taxation relatively low. And there is nothing wrong with a business growing larger, in and of itself. The growth indicates success. But, the problem is what happens when a business grows. Often, the entrepreneur who started the business is forced out, or exits, and is replaced by a “management team”, which will attempt to take that business to “the next level”. This is when the business often seeks further growth by using government to restrict competition — making contributions to politicians, seeking regulations which favor their products or services, etc.

  • DonS

    Joe @ 3 gets it right. Both conservatives and liberals should be able to agree that being pro-market, not pro-business, is the key. A well functioning market, with free and unfettered competition, aids the little guy, allowing small businesses to start and prosper, and grows the economy, thereby allowing governments to provide necessary social services while keeping taxation relatively low. And there is nothing wrong with a business growing larger, in and of itself. The growth indicates success. But, the problem is what happens when a business grows. Often, the entrepreneur who started the business is forced out, or exits, and is replaced by a “management team”, which will attempt to take that business to “the next level”. This is when the business often seeks further growth by using government to restrict competition — making contributions to politicians, seeking regulations which favor their products or services, etc.

  • sg

    I agree with Tom that small government may not protect consumers, but a large government that also does not protect consumers and costs taxpayers a ton of money is not an improvement.

  • sg

    I agree with Tom that small government may not protect consumers, but a large government that also does not protect consumers and costs taxpayers a ton of money is not an improvement.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    For reference, the federal government made massive subsidies to private business in the latter half of the 19th century, matched by massive tariffs (45% typically) which served as trade barriers to protect domestic manufacturers. Those of us who have read history outside the government schools know this is one of the key issues that led to the War Between the States.

    So if we’re going to talk about “Robber barons,” we need to remember exactly who created the situation in which they thrived; big government.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    For reference, the federal government made massive subsidies to private business in the latter half of the 19th century, matched by massive tariffs (45% typically) which served as trade barriers to protect domestic manufacturers. Those of us who have read history outside the government schools know this is one of the key issues that led to the War Between the States.

    So if we’re going to talk about “Robber barons,” we need to remember exactly who created the situation in which they thrived; big government.

  • Cincinnatus

    Bike Bubba@21: My point (or one of them at least) exactly, good sir.

    Big business cannot survive without big government, and the two are either predatory upon each other or mutually reinforcing, depending upon how you look at the situation. Without “big government,” there would, I can assure you, be no factory farms or “food industry,” no banks too big to fail, no “big-box” retailers, no massive automobile companies, and no healthcare “sector,” amongst other things. All these industries depend in some fashion or another, both directly and indirectly, upon government subsidies, protection, regulatory structures, tax burdens (which can be absorbed by big corporations but not small business), wage controls, bureaucratic institutions, or just general favoritism–all completely “legal,” but all, arguably, unjust. And all a direct result of “big government.” America hasn’t had a “small” government in any sense of the term since about 1850–nor were there or have there been big businesses since about the same period. Without discounting the importance of technology and ‘technical politics’ in the 20th century, it is not entirely coincidental, again, that the two flourished together.

    Tom, I think you’re still confused about the nature of power and corruption. A small government (by which I think you mean limited) cannot, by nature, meaningfully oppress its citizens or perpetrate injustice–because it has little or no power. And because it boasts little or no power, the tyrant, classically defined (he who rules in his own interest at the expense of others), is automatically limited in his ability to be tyrannical–nor is he even attracted to the slim gains to be gained from a powerless government. A “local government” over a “small” geographic area can still be a “big”–i.e., powerful–government in which corruption and oppression would be legitimate concerns. In any case, we are in no danger of a small government in either sense of the word.

  • Cincinnatus

    Bike Bubba@21: My point (or one of them at least) exactly, good sir.

    Big business cannot survive without big government, and the two are either predatory upon each other or mutually reinforcing, depending upon how you look at the situation. Without “big government,” there would, I can assure you, be no factory farms or “food industry,” no banks too big to fail, no “big-box” retailers, no massive automobile companies, and no healthcare “sector,” amongst other things. All these industries depend in some fashion or another, both directly and indirectly, upon government subsidies, protection, regulatory structures, tax burdens (which can be absorbed by big corporations but not small business), wage controls, bureaucratic institutions, or just general favoritism–all completely “legal,” but all, arguably, unjust. And all a direct result of “big government.” America hasn’t had a “small” government in any sense of the term since about 1850–nor were there or have there been big businesses since about the same period. Without discounting the importance of technology and ‘technical politics’ in the 20th century, it is not entirely coincidental, again, that the two flourished together.

    Tom, I think you’re still confused about the nature of power and corruption. A small government (by which I think you mean limited) cannot, by nature, meaningfully oppress its citizens or perpetrate injustice–because it has little or no power. And because it boasts little or no power, the tyrant, classically defined (he who rules in his own interest at the expense of others), is automatically limited in his ability to be tyrannical–nor is he even attracted to the slim gains to be gained from a powerless government. A “local government” over a “small” geographic area can still be a “big”–i.e., powerful–government in which corruption and oppression would be legitimate concerns. In any case, we are in no danger of a small government in either sense of the word.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Cincinnatus hits on another thing; we can talk about “big” government in terms of either spending or control. While the two go together, government subsidies for railroads and penalties (high tariffs) for imports in the 1800s illustrate that the link is not absolute, as Don would be correct in noting that spending was nowhere near as high way back as it is today.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Cincinnatus hits on another thing; we can talk about “big” government in terms of either spending or control. While the two go together, government subsidies for railroads and penalties (high tariffs) for imports in the 1800s illustrate that the link is not absolute, as Don would be correct in noting that spending was nowhere near as high way back as it is today.


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