It’s really easy to hate on big business. Despite the fact all of us buy from big business, likely invest in big business, and know someone who works for big business, you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone willing to defend “big business.” Why is that?
While I can’t speak for other people, I know in my case this dissonance can be attributed to:
- Not really knowing why I should think/feel a certain way about big business, and
- Your classic case of sheeple-ness.
Or put another way, it’s really easy to go along with the crowd when you don’t know why you shouldn’t.
Fortunately, the antidote for this one-two punch is easy and readily accessible (thanks, internet!): information and a little bit of effort.
So in the spirit of bucking my own sheeple-ness, I’d like to kick-off a three-part series exploring this question: “Why exactly do people hate on big business, and is the hate warranted?”
This blogpost will explore three popular arguments against big business. Later we’ll look at arguments that are pro- (or at least not anti-) big business, and finally we’ll round it off by synthesizing all of this information and deciding for ourselves if big business is worthy of all the hate.
And so, without further ado, I bring you Three Reasons Why People Hate Big Business:
Reason #1: Big business has a lot of power to shape society, which is scary because big business is psychotic and therefore DGAF about society.
This is the explanation I’ve been aware of for the longest time, and it’s pretty central to the whole anti-big business position. The general premise is: big business has become “big business” because they’ve been given human-like protections despite the fact they’re not humans. This is scary because if a corporation were a person, they’d be psychotic: companies do not have a concept of morality, allowing their actions to be ruled entirely by their intrinsic motivation to survive and make as much money as possible. As you can imagine, this could lead to some pretty shitty corporate actions: sweatshops, marketing harmful products to children, high pollution… sound familiar?
Reason #2: Big business - as it exists today - is bad for the economy by suppressing productivity.
For this reason, it’s important to first understand why productivity is important and what increased productivity means for the normal person:
The level of productivity is the most fundamental and crucial determinant of a standard of living. Increased productivity allows people to get what they want faster, or to get more of what they want in the same amount of time. Supply rises with productivity, dropping real prices and increasing real wages; it lifts people out of poverty and allows them to focus on efforts beyond mere survival. -
In other words, increased productivity lifts all boats, and in theory, gives us all better, more stable lives. Dope!
But apparently big business - or at least the way big business currently exists - is bad for productivity. Productivity thrives in competitive, dynamic environments, but established businesses continue to own larger and larger portions of the U.S. economy, exposing an absence of real competition. This is largely attributed to the anemic start-up rate (which has been decreasing for the past 30 years) and the vital role start-ups play by putting pressure on incumbents to improve (“disruption”). And while many agree the dominance of big business is a symptom of a less competitive economy, some are now arguing big business is also the cause:
“If we’re in an era of excessive profits, in competitive markets we would see record firm entry, but we see the opposite,” said Ian Hathaway, an economist who has studied the issue. That, Mr. Hathaway said, suggests that the market is not truly competitive — that existing companies have found ways to block competitors.
Experts also point to anecdotal examples that suggest that the rise of big businesses could be squelching competition. YouTube, Instagram and hundreds of lower-profile start-ups chose to sell out to industry heavyweights like Google and Facebook rather than try to take them on directly. The tech giants have likewise been accused of using the power of their platforms to favor their own offerings over those of competitors.”
So to combine points #1 and #2, big business, by nature of having a lot of power to act psychotically, has found yet another way to increase their own market share at the expense of American productivity, and in turn, our quality of life. Which takes us to point #3…
Reason #3: Big business can be huge fucking jerks to their own employees.
You read that right! And let's be honest, this one shouldn't be surprising. Whether or not you believe corporations are inherently psychotic, it’s hard to deny that many large companies have done some very bad things and have been very unapologetic about doing those very bad things. But where people become really incensed is when companies exhibit complete disregard for the health and happiness of their own employees, which FAIR. Like hello, aren’t these people actively causing your success? WTF.
There are too many examples of this type of behavior to list - the overwhelming disregard for factory safety, the use of child labor, incredibly low wages - but I’d like to share a recent example of the less obvious ways big business hurts its own employees: non-competes and prohibiting movement to other companies. The NYTimes recently reported that a number of fast food chains have a hidden clause that prohibits workers from moving to a different franchise - including within the same chain (!). For instance, if you work at a Burger King owned by Franchise #1 and there’s a manager opening at a different Burger King owned by Franchise #2, you can’t apply. The reason for the clause is plain and simple: prohibit employee movement to keep wages low. Barf.
Whew! That was fun! What do you think? If you’re firmly anti-big business, do you have a different argument to support your position?
Also: isn’t being a hater the most fun?
Thanks for joining me for part 1 of Death to Sheeple-ness! See you next time for part 2.