One of the most common arguments against free market capitalism is, “If government doesn’t step in, the robber barons will take over.”
“Robber barons” refer to the kinds of companies who supposedly wield unfair power over others. But exactly how does — or can — a business do this?
If an individual or company in a totally free market economy becomes rich, it’s only because people willingly chose to pay money for the goods and services that company offered. The company found a way to please enough customers, at a wide enough profit margin, to become a billionaire (or even richer).
There’s no “robbery” involved.
A robber or thief is someone who forcibly (at gunpoint or otherwise) takes money from a person. A fraud is also a robber or thief, because lying to people about a transaction is the same as forcing someone to do something they otherwise would not do.
Successful companies who make their earnings honestly are not frauds or violent criminals.
The entity with the greatest amount of force — and capacity for committing the most horrendous fraud — is the government. Government is the one with power.
On the one hand, that government power is a wonderful thing, if limited and used solely to restrain and prosecute violent or fraudulent criminals. If we’re the victim of a violent or cheating criminal, rational and rights-supporting government can surely be our best friend. But when government starts to commit force or fraud of its own — then it becomes the criminal.
Today, government is much more involved in perpetrating fraud and initiating force than protecting us against these things. A growing minority understands this, while a greater number merely senses it. That’s where all the anger is coming from, and that’s why it’s rising beyond the normal partisan limits.
One more example:
This week, The New York Times reported that the Justice Dept. served Apple with a court order in a case “involving guns and drugs,” demanding it provide real-time access to iMessage, Apple’s proprietary service for sending messages between iPhones.
Apple refused — not because it necessarily wanted to, but because it couldn’t comply. The iPhone and iPad maker reportedly told the feds that the service is encrypted, making it impossible for the company let alone the feds to access the data they demanded, unlike phone companies which, under US wiretap laws, are required to comply.
The criminal case is under seal in an unidentified U.S. federal court. [zdnet.com 9/11/15]
The government is not asking for Apple’s cooperation in stopping a known criminal, or a suspected one. The government is demanding that Apple comply with what the government wants to do, merely because the government demands it. The officials we have elevated to power beyond their Constitutional limits (Obama is a glaring example) are the real “robber barons” here.
Simply put: Apple could be forced to allow the FBI to impersonate an iPhone user, which would in effect allow the agency to siphon off a suspect’s messages as they come in.
[Cryptography expert Matthew] Green added that services like WhatsApp and Signal are “also vulnerable to similar attacks.”
“The real question is: could the government force Apple to do this against its will?” said Green. “Could a court force them to modify their technology in order to make eavesdropping possible?”
A company like Apple is huge. If it’s true that wealth equals power, then Apple should have no problem fending off the government. However, it does not matter how rich Apple is, or becomes. In the end, the government can do whatever it wants, at least so long as it keeps pushing the limits outside of its Constitutional boundaries, while our courts and citizens do absolutely nothing.
Most of us want to be rich. The power of money is that it buys choices. Choices are relevant only in a free marketplace where private property is respected and protected. We need a free society in which government is strong at protecting us from force or fraud, but otherwise stays out of our affairs. The kind of government going after Apple — trying to intimidate it into altering its technology so it may routinely spy on its customers at the behest of the authorities — is not the government founded by the likes of Jefferson, Madison and Washington.
The issue of government force is bipartisan. A decade ago, according to the story cited here, the George W. Bush administration intimidated Yahoo into violating the privacy of its customers, or whatever else the government demanded. It’s no wonder that the Obama administration now seeks to do the same thing with Apple.
Yes, we have checks and balances among the three branches of government to keep this kind of thing from getting out of hand. And in the end, the citizens themselves could still rise up, as a majority, and demand a stop. But for whatever reasons, it simply does not happen. From the Supreme Court on down, rights are violated more than upheld. The few people who are paying attention are ignored, and the vast majority of the electorate does not seem to care about much of anything, other than the next Social Security, Medicare or other government payment or bailout. Abortion rights and gay marriage? Sure; those are safe, for now. But beyond those, almost all other rights — to income, property, control over health care, privacy with one’s technology, choice in education — are withering away.
Some will point out that Apple has brought this on itself, by supporting candidates like President Obama for office in the past. However, in a free market where all individuals — including businesses — had equal individual rights under the law, there would not be any possibility of any company being in such a position.
It’s true that businesses sometimes peddle influence with the government. But the government would not be in the business of influences if, in the first place, it restricted itself to simply protecting everyone from violent or fraudulent criminals. If this is all the government was permitted to do, profit-making companies would have no ability to influence — and would likewise require no need to defend themselves.
It’s utopian to think that government would ever be free of corruption. Even under a Constitutional system of limited government powers, it’s reasonable to expect that government would sometimes step over its limits and have to be slapped down. But instead, government power is growing while the rights of individuals have become so weak that the federal government now feels empowered to go into uncharted waters.
The fact that Apple now faces this kind of intimidation from the federal government should more than give us pause. If someone that big and profitable can be throttled in this way — then who can’t be?
Speaking to The Times, officials from the Justice Dept. and the FBI “advocate taking Apple to court,” though their motives are unclear. One possibility is that the government will demand that Apple creates some kind of backdoor, a move which chief executive Tim Cook said he would “never allow” to happen. Cook went on to say — presumably referring to the government — that “they have to cart us out in a box before we would do that.”
The real robber barons are the governments of history who plunder, throttle, manipulate and — in the final case — murder their own citizens. Most Americans ignorantly and arrogantly assume it can’t happen here. But it’s happening every day, more and more, all the time. It’s happening incrementally, piece-by-piece, step by step.
Just ask Apple. If they have no recourse against our encroaching federal government — who among us does?
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