Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Corporation?

Many of my friends are upset that the Supreme Court has stood up for freedom of speech for corporations.  Their argument seems to be that letting corporations influence legislators freely will lead to bad outcomes.  The yelling “fire” in a crowded theater example comes up frequently.  Free speech, so the example goes, cannot include everything.

I think that is a red herring myself, as such an act has no real content and can only be construed as the intent to do immediate harm.  As much as I side with the Supremes on their decision, however, I have to say that I understand my friends’ concerns.  Here’s why.

One would think that businesses would be staunch supporters of laissez-faire capitalism.  Restricted markets mean a straitjacket on business, unless you are on the right side of the lawmakers. Herein lies the problem.  Businesses, at least those large enough to contribute significantly to political campaigns, routinely seek favors to make their competitive lives easier.  Whether it is insurance companies wanting state-to-state restrictions or Al Gore advocating for the “green” technologies that will make him a fabulously wealthy venture capitalist, those who have influence use it, usually at our expense.

The best solution, unfortunately, is also the least likely to occur in my lifetime.  I favor a radical separation of the economy and the state whereby the state is restricted to the enforcement of contracts, and of course, material harm to others such as legitimate pollution.  Being put out of business by competitors does not count, no matter how cute and wholesome you are.  Since that would require our legislators to give up the vast majority of their influence, I am not holding my breath.

So where does that leave us?  Perhaps better than my friends think.  Let any person or entity say what they please.  For that matter, let them contribute what they please.  Require them to disclose immediately, on the Internet for all to see, what those contributions were.  We voters are responsible for sorting the wheat from the chaff.  If we vote for people who will confiscate our tax money in order to scratch the backs of their favorite corporations, we deserve what we get.


Terry wishes he had a big corporation.  He would require people to buy his stuff whether they wanted it or not.  Maybe electric doughnuts or something.

About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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