Billionaires Are A Threat To Your Freedom
July 1st, 2019 | RR
Politicians and politically involved voters have a tendency to get so tightly strapped to an ideology that they can't think outside the box. They become so concerned with rigid principles and ideals that they automatically and instinctively reject ideas that could be applied practically and logically to everyday problems. Whether socialist or libertarian, idealistic fantasies about human psychology seem to trump real world solutions in the minds of ideologues. Good ideas are rejected as bad ideas because they don't fit into the paradigm of what it means to be left, right, liberal or conservative. This way of thinking eventually becomes toxic, not just for individuals but for societies. It's this kind of rigid thinking that leads to both government overreach and the laissez-faire policies that enable corporate cronyism.
Traditionally, we have used law and order to keep society intact and our civilization running. We have laws to prevent murder, rape, fraud and violence. We also have laws to prevent governments and corporations from sticking their dirty, grubby fingers into our lives and wallets. All of these laws place limits on individuals, governments and businesses. It's where these limits should stop and begin that has us all fighting with each other. We base our arguments more on ideology than on logic or practicality, which is why we're all so fucking divided and angry.
If you ask any libertarian, they would say governments have too much power and that everything should be stripped down to law, order and military. If you ask a socialist, they'll say governments don't have enough power and more should be put under the control of “the people”. It would take a real leap outside of the ideological box to say that both sides are correct, but wrong at the same time.
This is where constitutional rules come into play. Yes, they can be considered rigid principles, but constitutional rules are often more basic than the complicated, varying “principles” that make up libertarianism. Libertarians can't agree on any of the so-called principles they claim to have, making their arguments that people should be allowed to do more things without structure, rules or guidance even less palatable to a normal person. Libertarians can't even agree on whether abortion is a human right, so there's no believable scenario in which libertarians would be able to manage a stable government or society.
As for socialists, they have more structured rules, but they've all failed. History is rife with evidence that socialist principles don't work. Yet, socialists keep wanting to try again. They keep wanting to re-live the nightmares of the Soviet Union and Venezuela, hoping that they'll finally get it right.
Although their ideologies are polar opposites, libertarians and socialists react with the same, whiny condescension and indignation when someone calls out the flaws and inconsistencies in their ideas. Case in point, a recent Poletical piece that suggested a 100% tax on billionaires and the confiscation of wealth. I'm not in favour of the idea myself and—admittedly—I find it a bit too extreme, but I'm willing to entertain stripping some billionaires of their abilities and putting more limits on what they can do. The article's intent was to explore an extreme idea for the sake of stimulating a conversation about holding billionaires to the same standard as other, powerful decision-makers. Like in sales and game theory, in order to define the middle, one must first define the extremes.
"In order to define the middle, one must first define the extremes."
Rather than acknowledge the power that unmitigated wealth affords individuals, libertarians chose to attack the author and reject everything he was saying. The same libertarians who tell us that uncontrolled governments are dangerous are also trying to tell us that individuals and corporations with mind-boggling amounts of wealth pose no threat to individual liberty. If they do pose a threat, libertarians say, there is nothing we can do about it. The libertarian principles that protect individuals from the government also protect billionaires and their wealth. According to libertarians, you're a total idiot if you think otherwise. How dare you be such an unprincipled, childish hack!
Now let's bring in some real and hypothetical constitutional rules.
In the United States, they have something called the First Amendment and it protects free speech. An age-old libertarian rule states that private companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google can do whatever they'd like. This may be true, but when such companies gain extraordinary wealth and power, they happen to always take over their competition and monopolize their markets. As of now, there are no other comparable public forums like Facebook and Twitter. The ones that had moderate success were quickly swallowed up (Instagram, WhatsApp, Youtube, etc). As a result, all of these platforms, in which people are told to share their ideas, are under the control of just a handful of billionaires with the ability to censor and exile anyone with a contrarian point of view—which is exactly what they've been doing. This wouldn't matter if the market was more diverse, or if a majority of valuable public debate and dialogue hadn't fallen under the control of just a few powerful people.
The same situation is unfolding across other markets and industries. Small handfuls of billionaires and corporations control media, fashion, retail and grocery. In Canada, Loblaws now owns Shoppers' Drug Mart, while Sobey's owns Safeway. As a result, Canadians have fewer choices. Sure, they can take their money to Safeway, but the money is going to the same guys who own Sobey's. If Sobey's ever decides to ban a particular product across all of its brands, Canadian consumers would have one less choice.
If both Loblaws and Sobey's ever conspired to, say, rig the price of bread and set higher prices, Canadian consumers would be forced to pay more for bread, even if the market disagreed with the final price of the bread. According to libertarians, only free markets can decide the price of bread and if any company ever tries to rig the market, they would naturally lose and eventually pay the price at the hands of angry consumers. Unfortunately, this libertarian logic only works when there is a nearby and capable competitor that can offer bread at the real price. When one billionaire like Galen Weston buys up all of his competitors, there isn't really much room left to make this libertarian fantasy a reality.
Going back to free speech, much of the same is happening in the social media market. The libertarian solution to this problem is for you and I to quit complaining and to start our own social media platforms. The problem, though, is that a guy named Andrew Torba already tried with a little platform called Gab. That platform has since been banned by the Apple store and Google Play, while other media have called Gab a haven for “far right” extremism and white supremacy.
So much for that. The minute Gab reached 850,000 users (a fraction of Twitter), it was banned by two of the biggest technology companies on the planet and ostracized by the very same billionaires who own other, more powerful platforms and media organizations across the planet. Even starting an account with Gab now earns you the title of “white supremacist sympathizer”.
Simply put, even if meandering fools like myself—who call out libertarian fantasies for what they are—could somehow muster up money to start a massive social media network, potential users and investors have already been deterred by what happened to Gab. If I were smart enough to start something revolutionary and different than any other platform, I would quickly fall prey to my own greed and sell it to Google for the right price, meaning any free speech that I enabled with my new platform would eventually die. I mean, why would I care about your free speech anymore? I'd be too busy chilling on an undisclosed tropical island for the rest of my life.
That's how billionaires take and keep their control. Since money buys control and control is power, money buys power.
As of now, a tiny handful of Silicon Valley billionaires control public discourse and individual speech. Facebook and Twitter have become the public forums everyone uses, just as the telephone became the main source of communication by the 1940s. To prevent billionaires and monopolists from being able to control these communications or ban people from using them, governments around the world declared the telephone a public utility. Ever since, cellular phone companies have been forced to allow calls to 911 even when a person doesn't have an active contract or is in arrears. Likewise, companies are not allowed to discriminate based on religion, race, sex or any other identifiable characteristics when choosing to provide service to an individual. A telephone or cellular provider could never ban you for making incendiary comments using their services. Neither could a power company cut off your power for making rude or racist remarks online. In fact, power companies in Canada can't even cut off your power in the winter when you refuse to pay your bills.
So much for corporations being able to do whatever they want. Turns out, they can't and shouldn't be allowed to do whatever they want, especially when they have the power to destroy their competition and enforce their own rules across a society. Or, especially, when they have the ability to destroy a person's well-being and livelihood.
Google almost entirely controls how people access the internet and what they are able to see, read and hear across the entire web. Google has even been helping the Marxist Chinese government filter anti-communist sources and censor critics of the Chinese government. The next closest competitor to Google is Bing, which is owned by Microsoft and is only used in less than 20% of all current internet searches. Neither Apple or Facebook have bothered to try creating their own search engines, given the total lack of success experienced by Microsoft.
So much for a free market. If Microsoft can't even compete with Google, we ordinary Joes have no chance.
As you can see, libertarian rules work about as good as socialist rules. When allowed free reign, billionaires and corporations will act as badly as governments, which is why we need to limit them even more than we already do. When given the freedom to buy up everything and anything with their unlimited wealth, billionaires become as dangerous as governments. In fact, I would argue that both libertarian and socialist principles eventually lead to the same ends. Both lead to a hegemony of power that is concentrated among a small handful of people.
Choosing between libertarian fantasies and socialist fantasies is the equivalent of choosing between government hegemony and corporate hegemony, both of which are undesirable for any freedom-loving individual. The only way to prevent both kinds of hegemony is to play everyone against each other. As individuals in a democracy, we have the ability to use governments against monopolies and billionaires, while using governments against themselves. We have a series of basic constitutional rules we can use to protect ourselves from both governments and billionaires.
The first step in achieving real individual freedom is to kick down the ideological walls that have held us captive. Forget trying to live up to some unattainable principle. A society that works for every individual will consist of a wide range of ideas from the right and left. Ordinary people don't think inside the left-right box. Ordinary people are always trying to find ways to make life easier for themselves and their families, without trying to figure out if the solutions to their problems fit into the appropriate ideological category. Parents with less income will vote for a politician that offers them better subsidies and child-care benefits, while individuals with no kids or spouses may be looking for other ways to make their lives easier with lower taxes and fewer rules. That's how the world works. We all want to free ourselves, but expecting everyone to fall in line with our own ideological visions is not only unfeasible, it's absurd.
When it comes down to feeding your kids, you don't stop to think whether your libertarian or socialist friends will approve of your choices. If you do, you're an idiot. Free yourself and look at the opportunities that are in front of you—those opportunities are your salvation and many of them are being taken from you by both governments and unimaginably powerful billionaires.
© 2019 Poletical