The Assault on Corporations - The Objective Standard

The for-profit corporation propels the American economy. Many people work for corporations. Many invest in them. And all of us buy their goods and services, most of which are too complex for us to create ourselves. Corporations produce our cars, medicines, refrigerators, and countless other goods that improve our lives. We rely on them to inform us, connect us, entertain us. The most innovative corporations create new products, upgrade existing ones, or forge better ways to serve their customers. They do all of this by coordinating the labor and talent of workers toward a common purpose and for mutual benefit.

The corporation is well suited for spearheading large-scale projects. Because of its distinctive set of features, including limited liability and freely transferable shares, a public corporation can raise vast capital from many small investors who otherwise wouldn’t be willing to invest (for fear of being sued) or able to invest (as the transaction costs would be prohibitive). Further, not all investors can manage a business, and not all managers have enough money to start their own businesses. Solving this problem, the corporation fosters a basic division of labor: The shareholders (investors) own the corporation, and the corporate officers manage it.

Consider the incalculable value created by corporations in just two industries: hi-tech (Silicon Valley) and finance (Wall Street).

Many corporations facilitated the information technology revolution, including Bell Labs (transistors), Intel (microprocessors), Microsoft (software), IBM, and Apple (computers). As such companies improved production over the past fifty years, the cost of processing power plummeted more than 99.99 percent. The capabilities of computers exploded while their size shrank. First came the mainframe, then the personal computer, then the laptop, then the smartphone—a gadget that would have sounded like science fiction a few decades ago. Besides a phone, it’s a TV, GPS, and flashlight; camera, computer, and calculator; alarm clock, answering machine, and music player; video recorder, gaming platform, and more—all in one inexpensive device that fits in your pocket. With a smartphone, you can communicate with anyone in real time (Facebook, Zoom), and practically all of the information in the world is at your fingertips (Google, Wikipedia), most of it for free.

Silicon Valley has made most other industries more productive, enabling companies to automate many processes, deploy highly targeted advertising, easily find suitable workers, and manage inventory more efficiently. It also has given employees around the world greater flexibility in working remotely and setting their own hours.

The impressive achievements of hi-tech corporations would not exist without Wall Street. To reach their potential, great companies such as Cisco, Oracle, and Amazon need banks and other financial institutions. Why? Because such institutions provide a vital service, a service without which not only these companies but the economy at large would come to a grinding halt: They raise capital from those who have it (savers), then allocate it to the companies that will use it most productively.

Companies need money to launch. They need money to buy inventory and equipment. They need money to hire workers. They need money for research and development. They need money to open plants or enter new lines of business. Even when a company grows rapidly, reinvesting its profits rarely suffices to finance its expansion. This is where Wall Street comes in. It offers companies many ways to get the money they need, including loans or lines of credit, venture capital or commercial paper, bonds or initial public offerings. Because many companies fail, bankers, investors, and portfolio managers cannot afford to allocate capital rashly. In order to maximize profits, they must judge which companies are most likely to succeed, forecast their return on investment, and allocate capital accordingly.

From Wall Street to Silicon Valley—and every industry between—corporations are the productive backbone of the economy. Are they perfect? No. Like any institution, they make mistakes and have their share of bad apples. But whatever their flaws, we must heed an essential fact: We have corporations to thank for our ever-growing standard of living.

Yet despite their prodigious achievements, corporations are relentlessly vilified. Politicians, intellectuals, and so-called pundits tell us that corporations are greedy. Senator Bernie Sanders says, “The greed of Wall Street and corporate America is destroying the very fabric of our nation. . . . If Wall Street does not end its greed, we will end it for them.”1 According to the declaration of Occupy Wall Street, corporations “place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality.”2 “The real culprits of the middle class squeeze,” President Barack Obama said, are “a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed.”3

Yes, corporations are “greedy” if that means they strive to increase their profits. But can a corporation honestly profit without harming others? Not according to some. Matthew Yglesias (Vox) writes, “The shareholders’ . . . goal is to maximize the value of their shares.” Thus, “If reformulating your product to be more addictive or less healthy increases sales, then it’s not only permissible but actually required to do so.”4 According to social activist and MIT Professor Noam Chomsky, “The search for profit, when it’s unconstrained and free from public control, will naturally try to repress people’s lives as much as possible. The executives wouldn’t be doing their jobs otherwise.”5 Law professor Joel Bakan, author of The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, says, “the corporation . . . is compelled to cause harm when the benefits of doing so outweigh the costs.”6

Besides condemning corporations for their greed, some critics argue that corporations are parasites. Executive vice president and a senior fellow of the Democracy Collaborative Marjorie Kelly writes, “In the construct of the corporation, one group gets what another earns.”7 Political activist Ralph Nader says corporations redistribute “the workers’ wealth into their own pockets and coffers.”8 In his book When Corporations Rule the World, David Korten writes, “The corporation behaves like a money-seeking robot systematically expropriating and destroying the real wealth of living communities to make money . . . unrelated to anything of real value.”9

Observe that Kelly, Nader, and Korten are not criticizing particular corporations for committing theft or fraud. Instead, they’re arguing that corporations by nature don’t create wealth; they steal it.

But it gets worse. Some intellectuals even assert that some corporations are as brutal as the murderous regimes of fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and communist Russia. Quoting Chomsky, “Corporations are more totalitarian than most institutions we call totalitarian in the political arena.”10 And Korten says, “The corporation is among the most authoritarian of organizations and can be as repressive as the most oppressive totalitarian state.”11

Whereas Chomsky and Korten liken corporations to totalitarian regimes, political commentator Thom Hartmann and filmmaker Michael Moore liken corporations to homicidal maniacs. “More people die,” Hartmann tells us, “as a result of corporate activity than because of the actions of deranged killers or overwrought spouses.”12 According to Moore, when corporations lay off workers, “We don’t call the company a murderer, and we certainly don’t call their actions terrorism, but make no mistake about it, their victims will be just as dead as those poor souls in Oklahoma City, killed off in the name of greed.”13

Many critics think corporations are beyond redemption; they’re corrupt and illegitimate. Bakan says the corporation is a “psychopathic creature.”14 And Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once called the corporation a “Frankenstein monster.”15

Although critics endlessly berate corporations, they don’t berate small businesses. The pursuit of profit, however, motivates them too, yet they rarely are accused of greed or tyranny. The question is: Why the hostility against big corporations? The problem, critics claim, is that because of their sheer size, big corporations have more power to inflict harm.

“We have these giants [sic] corporations,” Senator Elizabeth Warren says, “that think they can roll over everyone.”16 They “have too much power—too much power over our economy, our society, and our democracy.”17 Former secretary of labor and UC Berkeley professor Robert Reich says, “Forget the old idea that corporations succeed by becoming better, cheaper, or faster than their competitors. They now succeed mainly by increasing their monopoly power.”18 Meanwhile, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse says, “Corporations now have become the most powerful . . . entities in our society.”19

Most assaults on corporations have come from the left, but in recent years many conservatives have started assaulting the big tech and social media companies. Echoing the left, conservatives argue that these companies have too much power. Stuart Varney (Fox Business) says, “I see the power that’s been accumulated by Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook, Larry Page [and] Sergey Brin at Google, Jack Dorsey at Twitter. You look at the power that those four people have, and it’s universal, and it’s extreme, and you have to rein it in.”20 “All of a sudden,” Tucker Carlson (Fox News) says, “we wake up in a world where big companies seem to have more power than the federal government.”21 On his show, Carlson has a segment called “Tech Tyranny” in which he frequently bashes Google, Twitter, Facebook, and Amazon. Referring to these companies, Steve Hilton (Fox News) says, “These platforms are too powerful.”22

Why are conservatives so alarmed by the power of big tech corporations? In part, because these corporations allegedly censor conservative voices. Christie-Lee McNally (The Hill) writes, “Big tech companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter [are] censoring political viewpoints that differ from the left-leaning ideologies of the companies’ leadership.”23 Laura Ingraham (Fox News) says, “The Media Research Center [MRC] released a devastating report today documenting the censorship of conservative speech by Silicon Valley’s tolerant tech giants.” Ingraham’s guest, MRC founder Brent Bozell, said this is “the greatest censorship of free speech worldwide in the history of man.”24

Critics aren’t content just denouncing corporations; they want something to be done. Speaking for “Progressives” and some conservatives, George Monbiot (The Guardian) says, “The key political question of our age . . . is what to do about corporate power.”25 The nearly unanimous answer: Government must exert its power to limit corporate power. “The governments [sic] job,” Conor Lynch (Salon) writes, “should be to limit the size and strength of corporations.”26 How? One way is stronger regulation. Bakan says regulations “protect the public interest from corporate misdeeds,” and they “must be at the heart of any effective strategy to curtail corporate harms and exploitation.”27 Quoting Hilton, “If a company gets too big of a market share in any sector, let’s say it’s over 50 percent, it should be treated like part of the public sector—higher taxes, much tougher regulation, and so on.”28 “The market-dominance or monopoly issue,” Jeremy Carl (National Review) argues, “still remains a potent justification for regulation.”29

Whereas some politicians and intellectuals want stronger regulation, others want the government to break up big corporations. Reich says, “It is time to use antitrust again. We should break up the hi-tech behemoths.”30 Senator Warren, too, proclaims, “it’s time to break up our biggest tech companies,” including “Amazon, Facebook, and Google.”31 Some conservatives agree with Reich and Warren. Tucker Carlson, for example, praised Warren’s proposal, saying it was “smart and true” and that enacting it “would be a good decision.”32 And President Donald Trump says, “We will strongly regulate [social media platforms], or close them down.”33 Meanwhile, Senator Sanders unveiled the Too Big to Fail, Too Big to Exist Act, which proposed breaking up the six largest banks: Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, and JP Morgan Chase.34 Sanders, Warren, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also have called for abolishing private health-insurance corporations.

What justifies regulating, breaking up, or abolishing corporations? Don’t they have a right to their money, their property, their business? “We are supposed to break up big corporations,” de Blasio says, “when they’re not serving our democracy.”35 Moreover, it is “the people’s right,” Korten argues, “to abolish any public body that, in their judgment, no longer serves the public interest.”36

To summarize this narrative, greed corrupts corporations. Recklessly pursuing profit, corporations violate people’s rights, exploiting them, censoring them, enslaving them, even killing them. As they accumulate others’ wealth, corporations gain monopoly power, enabling them to violate more rights while gaining more wealth, corrupting our democracy. In order to protect the public interest, government must restrain, control, and regulate corporations—or break them up.

Is this narrative true? Do corporations have too much power? What about the power of government? Is there a difference between corporate power and political power? If so, is each power a threat to our rights? Before addressing these questions, let’s first address a common, academic argument against corporations.

An Illegitimate Institution?

Besides attacking corporations for their power and how they use it, some critics attack the corporation at its legal roots. Because the law recognizes the corporation as a form of business organization, some intellectuals argue that its main features, especially limited liability, are government-granted privileges.37 The corporation, therefore, is a “creature of the state.” As law professor Burt Neuborne puts it, the “for-profit business corporation [is] an artificial state-created legal fiction vested with unlimited life, entity shielding, [and] limited shareholder liability.”38

What are the implications of this view? Some argue that the corporation is not a free-market institution, reminding us that Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson scorned it. Libertarian natural law theorist Frank Van Dun asks whether “corporations are compatible with the free market.” His answer: It appears “that they are not.”39 According to others, including Chomsky, “Corporations are fundamentally illegitimate.”40 Still others argue that the corporation is a public institution that must, as Hartmann says, “operate in the public interest.”41 The state, therefore, should have authority over the corporation, dictating how it will operate, what prices it will charge, and how long it will exist, if at all.

The notion that the state creates corporations is a myth, which stems in part from misreading history. Though each bears the label “corporation,” the modern business corporation is unlike its preindustrial predecessors—namely, the 17th-century Dutch and British trading companies, such as the East India Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company. Requiring a grant of special privilege from the Crown—which it could revoke—these corporations were government-chartered monopolies. The monarch granted a corporation exclusive permission to trade with particular nations in exchange for part of its profits. Though nominally private, some corporations were arms of the Crown; the monarch delegated political powers to them, from signing treaties to maintaining an army, to conquering territory.

Early in the American republic, state governments chartered corporations for a specific period and purpose, such as building a road, bridge, or canal. Similar to Britain, the states granted corporations monopoly powers, but they also imposed restrictions and could rewrite or revoke corporate charters.

In many ways, these preindustrial corporations were creatures of the state. Smith and Jefferson opposed them, as the modern business corporation had not yet emerged.42 But this changed in the 19th century, as state laws gradually established general incorporation. This meant a company no longer needed permission to incorporate. Its corporate status, moreover, did not expire, did not confer monopoly powers, was not confined to a specific location and line of business, and was not at risk of arbitrary changes by state legislatures. Also, several Supreme Court decisions recognized that corporations have constitutional protections, including protection against unreasonable searches and seizures (Fourth Amendment), due-process property protections (Fifth Amendment), and equal protection under the law (Fourteenth Amendment). In short, the nature of corporations radically changed. They went from being government-imposed monopolies with attached strings to voluntary associations that anyone could form by right. The corporation no longer was a creature of the state.

Critics, however, ignore or misconstrue the historical shift to general incorporation. As Anthony Kammer (Demos) argues, “We need to get back to the simple fact that corporations are institutions created by law, and not naturally occurring entities with inherent, inalienable rights.”43 No, the law does not “create” corporations any more than it “creates” marriages. Instead, the law simply recognizes them while imposing a few procedural requirements on their creation, such as public registration.44 But without state involvement, a marriage could be created via private contract. Similarly, the equivalent of a corporation could be created through a complex series of private contracts. The main purpose, though, of the general incorporation laws is to streamline this, providing a standard, premade contractual arrangement while giving companies the flexibility to adapt its provisions to their needs.45

What about perpetual life, entity status, and limited liability for debts? Don’t the incorporation laws grant corporations these privileges? The simplest proof that these are not government-granted privileges is that other organizations, such as trusts and partnerships, can gain the same features by private contract.46

Limited liability for torts, however, is different. In this context, limited liability means that if a corporation harms someone, the victim can sue the corporation but not individual shareholders. This is neither a contractual feature nor a government-granted privilege. Instead, it is an objective recognition that people (in this case, passive shareholders) should not be held liable for the acts of those they do not control or authorize (managers and employees).47 The same principle applies to limited partnerships. Like the shareholders in a corporation, the “limited” partners in a partnership are passive investors whose liability properly is limited.

Despite these facts, critics cling to the myth that corporations are creatures of the state. Bakan claims that the state “grants corporations their essential rights.”48 If the state grants them their rights, as opposed to recognizing their preexisting rights, then it legitimately can rescind them. This, some intellectuals want. Hartmann calls for local governments to adopt ordinances that “eliminate the purported constitutional rights of corporations.”49

Eliminating the rights of corporations means eliminating the rights of individuals qua owners of corporations. If the government shut down a corporation or seized its property without due process, that would violate the rights of the corporation’s owners. If individuals have rights, they don’t lose those rights by working together with other people or by incorporating. A corporation is a voluntary association of individuals established by contract. For this reason, it is a legitimate institution.

But do corporations have too much power?

Corporate ‘Exploitation’

According to most pundits, the answer is obvious: Yes, of course corporations have too much power. And this is a problem because corporations use their power to fleece and impoverish people. They export jobs, underpay employees, and overcharge consumers. They monopolize markets while crushing smaller competitors. They also defraud investors and the public. As de Blasio says, “For all the American citizens out there who feel you’re falling behind or feel the American dream is not working for you . . . The big corporations did that to you.”50

Accusations of corporate exploitation are rife. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says Amazon pays “people starvation wages.”51 Meanwhile, Senator Sanders condemns Walmart’s wages as “absurd and unacceptable.”52 According to Reich, policies favoring big corporations have led to “lower pay and higher prices” for most Americans.53 And the Declaration of Occupy Wall Street says corporations use “outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay.”54

The facts say otherwise. Amazon’s starting wage is $15 an hour, and Walmart pays its full-time hourly employees $14.26 an hour.55 If workers find these wages “absurd and unacceptable,” they can look elsewhere for better pay. But they will struggle to find it at a small firm. By a wide margin, most big firms not only pay higher wages, but provide superior benefits (including health insurance), give more training, and offer more stable employment while having safer, cleaner work environments.56 Employees at big firms, too, are less likely to quit and less likely to be laid off.57 We often hear that small firms create most jobs. But many small firms fail, eliminating some jobs. Big firms create as many or more net new jobs than small ones do.58

Far from gouging consumers with high prices, big corporations from Walmart to Amazon, to Home Depot, to Dollar General charge prices lower than those of their smaller competitors.59 They also offer greater convenience with a wider selection of products. And don’t forget that Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube, and others offer their platforms for free.

But low prices, critics argue, aren’t always good. “Dollar General’s aggressive pricing,” Chris McGreal (The Guardian) laments, “drives locally owned grocery stores out of business.”60 No, big retailers don’t drive small ones out of business. Consumers do—by not buying their products anymore. A business doesn’t own its customers. A big retailer has a right to offer better deals than its rivals, large or small. That is the essence of competition.

Yet Senator Warren says, “Today, in America, competition is dying. Consolidation and concentration are on the rise in sector after sector.”61 In some industries, a few big corporations dominate, but this is neither new nor alarming. Often, a young industry will have many small firms, then consolidate into fewer big firms as it matures. Industries evolve. There is no “right” number of competitors and no “wrong” degree of industrial concentration. Contra Warren, a few big firms can be as competitive as many small ones.

Though some industries are well suited for small firms, others are not, especially those facing foreign competition. Further, most industries would not perform better if they had countless small firms rather than a few big ones. Why? Because bigger firms typically are far more productive than smaller ones—they exploit economies of scale, employ labor and capital more efficiently, and use more advanced equipment and technology. Bigger firms often have superior management and operations. They also tend to be more innovative, investing more in R&D while earning more patents.62

Despite this, pundits hurl accusations of “monopoly.” As Lina Khan (Democracy Journal) says, “Some policymakers and politicians today are starting to realize that America once again has a monopoly problem.”63 Which industry has this problem? Big tech. President Trump called Amazon a “no-tax monopoly.”64 “Facebook, Google, YouTube, and Twitter,” Carl argues, are “Internet monopolies.”65 If Trump and Carl consider these firms monopolies for lacking competition, they are wrong. Amazon competes with Walmart, Target, and countless other retailers. YouTube competes with Hulu, Netflix, Prime Video, and network television. Moreover, although YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter have different niches, they all compete for users’ time.66

Before the 20th century, people generally defined “monopoly” as an enterprise that had a government-granted, exclusive privilege to do business in a particular sector or geographic area.67 They understood that a monopoly exists only when government blocks competition. But the word has been wrongly redefined to include firms not legally protected from competition. Today, people call firms monopolies merely for having a large market share. The problem with these revised definitions is they fail to distinguish a firm that earned its market share from one that gained it through government edict. Without legal barriers to entry, if one firm dominates its industry, nothing guarantees that this will last. If it gets lazy, stops innovating, or raises its prices too high, new competitors will pounce. Observe that AOL, Blackberry, Nokia, and many others held dominant positions, yet their market shares collapsed.

In order to combat our “monopoly problem,” Reich, Warren, and others want to break up big corporations, calling for more aggressive antitrust enforcement. Antitrust is a set of laws banning supposedly monopolistic, “anticompetitive” practices. These laws have a sordid history. Under antitrust, the government has prosecuted extraordinarily productive, innovative, price-cutting firms, including Standard Oil (1911), Alcoa (1945), United Shoe Machinery Corporation (1953, 1968), General Electric (1961), Westinghouse (1961), IBM (1969–1982), and Microsoft (1998–2004).68

“America has a long tradition of breaking up companies” through antitrust, Senator Warren says, “when they have become too big and dominant—even if they are generally providing good service at a reasonable price.”69 This is a damning indictment of antitrust—from one of its supporters. The stance of NYU professor Scott Galloway is just as telling. He calls for breaking up big tech corporations for having too much power, yet he admits, “I don’t think they’ve done anything wrong.”70

Antitrust targets exceptional corporations because they’re “too big” and “too powerful.”71 Yet, perversely, it exempts real monopolies, those created and sustained by government.72 The monopoly franchises that most state and local governments have granted to telephone, cable television, and public utility (gas, water, electric) companies are exempt from antitrust.73 So are the Federal Reserve, which has a legal monopoly on issuing currency; and the Postal Service, which has a legal monopoly on delivering first-class mail.

Besides accusing corporations of wielding monopoly power, critics accuse them of exporting poverty to undeveloped nations. Multinational corporations, they tell us, exploit foreign workers in “sweatshops.” As Korten claims, “corporate globalization [is] spreading mass poverty.”74 The truth is the opposite. In the past few decades, global poverty has plummeted. According to the World Bank, the rate of extreme poverty fell from 36 percent in 1990 to 10 percent in 2015.75 By American standards, corporations pay foreign workers low wages, but such a comparison is irrelevant. The question is: How much could these workers make without the opportunity to work in a factory of an American corporation? In most cases, much less. Workers in corporate factories earn as much as three times the average wage of their home country.76

Though most charges of corporate exploitation and monopoly are false, some corporations have harmed people. One way is fraud. Notable examples include Enron’s and Worldcom’s accounting frauds, Volkswagen’s diesel emissions fraud, Theranos’s product fraud, and Wells Fargo’s customer account fraud. Other corporations have made their products riskier in order to cut costs. In some of its automobiles, GM dangerously positioned the fuel tank. This made it more likely to rupture in a collision, leading to fuel-fed fires. The company faced several lawsuits from victims, settling one case for $1.2 billion.77

Chomsky, Bakan, and Yglesias assert that this behavior is not only common, but that the profit motive requires corporations to harm and defraud people. This argument is absurd. Most corporate executives recognize that committing fraud or cutting corners is a self-destructive way to run a business. Corporations that act this way devalue their stock, pay billions in fines and settlements, or lose business by debasing their reputations—and some go bankrupt. Further, fraud is not a distinctively corporate problem. Dishonest people are as deceitful outside a business context as they are inside, and fraud is as common in nonprofit organizations as it is in corporations.78

In myriad ways, however, corporations help combat fraud and other crime. Some companies produce antitheft products, such as locks, The Club, and LoJack. Others offer home security systems (ADP, SimpliSafe) and protect people from identity theft (LifeLock, Identity Guard). Insurance companies investigate suspicious claims. Credit card companies monitor their clients’ accounts for unusual purchases. Investigative journalists, often employed by media corporations, look to expose fraud and corruption. Auditing companies (KPMG, Deloitte) examine the books of other companies, and many corporations have their own auditors. Internal auditors, for example, uncovered and reported the fraud at Worldcom.79

Although some corporations violate people’s rights, these violations pale in comparison with those by government.

The ‘Boogeyman Government’

Rights violations committed by government are legion, from eminent domain to civil forfeiture, to the entitlement state, to the regulatory state, to the surveillance state. Consider each in turn.

Eminent Domain

The Fifth Amendment authorizes government to take private property for “public use” as long as it gives “just compensation.” This is the power of eminent domain, a power constitutionally delimited to such projects as public roads or government buildings—which in and of itself violates rights. Yet government resorts to eminent domain to take private property and give it to other private parties. How is this possible? Because with the sanction of the courts, governments have arbitrarily redefined “public use,” equating it with “public purpose” or “public benefit.”80

Many local governments exploit eminent domain to increase their tax base. In such cases, if a municipality thinks a new shopping center will generate more tax revenue than the existing houses, it will condemn those properties, force the owners to sell them, then transfer them to a developer. Or it will condemn several small businesses, then transfer their properties to a big business. Besides the injustice of forcing people to sell their property, the victims usually receive far less than fair market value.81 Annually, local governments use eminent domain to condemn thousands of properties.82 The practice has ruined many small businesses, as it often leads to lost clients, more expenses, and difficulty finding a new, suitable location.83

Among the many victims of eminent domain are Susette Kelo and her former neighbors. In Kelo v. City of New London (2005), the Supreme Court ruled in the city’s favor: It can legally take their homes for commercial redevelopment. (Kelo’s story was made into a movie, Little Pink House.)84 As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote in her dissenting opinion, “The specter of condemnation hangs over all property. Nothing is to prevent the State from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory.”85

Despite the harm and injustice that eminent domain inflicts, President Trump has been a longtime supporter and beneficiary of this policy. During his 2016 campaign, he said, “I think eminent domain is wonderful.”86

Civil Forfeiture

Criminal asset forfeiture laws empower government to seize a criminal’s property if it is connected to his crime, a legitimate practice. Civil asset forfeiture laws, by contrast, empower government to seize a person’s property on the suspicion it is connected to a crime—no arrest, no charges, no conviction needed. These laws rest on the absurd premise that though a property owner might be innocent, his property can be “guilty” and thus forfeited. Observe the inane titles of civil forfeiture cases in which the defendant is a car, a boat, or cash, such as United States v. $124,700 in U.S. Currency.87

Thanks to these laws, carrying much cash is risky—if you run into police. In Texas, a couple traveling with their children carried $6,037 to buy a used car. After pulling them over, police brought them to the station. The district attorney then threatened to charge the couple, absent evidence, with money laundering and child endangerment if they didn’t forfeit their cash.88

Although, in some cases, victims can get their money or property back, few do because the government imposes onerous roadblocks.89 As the New York Times reports, “The government can take the money without ever filing a criminal complaint, and the owners are left to prove they are innocent. Many give up.”90 From 2007 to 2016, the DEA alone seized $3.2 billion in cash from people not charged with a crime.91 This figure excludes the value of other seized assets, including cars and houses.

The IRS, too, has exploited civil forfeiture, seizing business bank accounts for “structuring.” This is the “crime” of depositing less than $10,000 in order to avoid federal reporting requirements. Lacking evidence, the IRS often assumes that if a business routinely deposits less than $10,000, a common practice, it’s for an illicit purpose. One victim of this was Carole Hinders, owner of a cash-only restaurant. Though she was not charged with a crime, the IRS seized her $33,000 checking account, every dollar of which she legitimately earned.92

Loretta Lynch, attorney general under the Obama administration, said civil forfeiture is a “very important” tool and “a wonderful tool.”93

The Entitlement State

Whereas civil forfeiture takes people’s money and property unpredictably, the entitlement state (or welfare state) does so methodically, through taxes. The entitlement state comprises all wealth redistribution programs, from Medicare to Medicaid, food stamps to public assistance, Social Security to business subsidies.94 These programs account for nearly 70 percent of the federal government’s spending. This is money the government spends not on its legitimate functions (courts, military, law enforcement) but on handouts—money the government takes from people who have earned it and gives to those who haven’t.

Dissatisfied with the reach of the entitlement state, politicians such as Warren, Sanders, and Ocasio-Cortez are calling for more, from “free” college tuition to “free” health care for all. To pay for this, some want to impose a wealth tax; others want to raise the top marginal income tax rate to as high as 70 percent. “There should be no billionaires,” Sanders proclaims.95 Under his tax plan, he says, “the wealth of billionaires would be cut in half over 15 years.”96

Thomas Jefferson and James Madison must be turning in their graves. “To take from one,” Jefferson wrote, “in order to spare to others . . . is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry, and the fruits acquired by it.”97 “I cannot undertake,” Madison said, “to lay my finger on that article in the Federal Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.”98

If a person has a moral right to the wealth he has gained legitimately, and he does, then government has no right to transfer any of it to others, whether to a corporation, a poor person, or an old person. Two words capture the essence of not only the entitlement state, but also eminent domain and civil forfeiture: legalized theft.

The Regulatory State

The regulatory state is the morass of arbitrary rules the government imposes on people and businesses, dictating what they must and must not do. Enforced by agencies such as the FDA, FTC, and OSHA, these rules are compiled in the Code of Federal Regulations, which runs to more than 185,000 pages. Given the volume and complexity of regulation, businesses cannot comply with them all.99 Moreover, businesses face steep penalties for noncompliance.100 Former head of the EPA in Dallas Al Armendariz admitted that the way he dealt with noncompliant oil and gas companies was to “crucify them.”101

In a free society, government does not micromanage everyone’s life and business in order to prevent bad behavior. Instead, it recognizes the individual’s (or business’s) right to act as he sees fit so long as he doesn’t harm others or violate their rights. If he does harm others, they can sue for damages; if he violates their rights, the government is charged with imposing penalties.

The regulatory state, however, contravenes a free society. Besides restricting our rights and freedoms, it transforms them into privileges, requiring approval before we act. You want to be a cosmetologist, try a new medication, or build an addition to your house? First you must get the government’s permission, which can be denied—or used to coerce exactions.102 If a business wants to open a hospital, sell liquor, or merge with another company, it too must get permission. The extent to which we need permission to act, as opposed to acting by right, is the extent to which we are not free.

But don’t we need regulation to combat fraud? Fraud already was illegal long before regulatory agencies existed. The main purpose of these agencies is not to prevent or investigate fraud; it’s to enforce arbitrary rules. Investigating and prosecuting fraud is a law-enforcement function, not a regulatory one. Regulation didn’t stop the Enron fraud, the Worldcom fraud, and countless other frauds. An academic study, which examined these organizations and many others, confirms this. It analyzed the relationship between regulation and corporate scandals, including fraud. Looking at data from twenty-six nations over a two-hundred-year period, the researchers conclude, “we find no evidence that regulations can curb corporate misconduct.”103

The Surveillance State

Since 9/11 and the Patriot Act (2001), the government has eviscerated the Fourth Amendment in the name of fighting terrorism.104 Acting far beyond the bounds of legitimate national security, agencies such as the NSA, FBI, TSA, and DHS have harassed citizens, violated their civil liberties, and conducted mass surveillance—without warrants.105

Among other things, the NSA indiscriminately collected the phone, e-mail, and internet records of Americans through programs such as PRISM.106 It also covertly weakened encryption standards and coerced tech companies to build “backdoors” into their systems. Besides giving the NSA vast access to private data, such backdoors compromise internet security. This leaves people, businesses, and the government itself more vulnerable to criminal hackers and hostile nation-states.107

One NSA surveillance tool is XKEYSCORE.108 Whistleblower Edward Snowden had firsthand access to this tool when he was a contractor for the NSA. Using XKEYSCORE, he says, one can

type in pretty much anyone’s address, telephone number, or IP address, and then basically go through the recent history of their online activity. In some cases you could even play back recordings of their online sessions, so that the screen you’d be looking at was their screen, whatever was on their desktop. You could read their emails, their browser history, their search history, their social media postings, everything. . . . Everyone’s communications were in the system—everyone’s.109

Meanwhile, the FBI targets political activists and dissenters for exercising their First Amendment rights. In its counterterrorism efforts, a former FBI agent admits, the bureau ends “up pursuing people who are critical of the government.”110 One activist caught in the FBI’s crosshairs was Scott Crow. Though the agency found no criminal activity, it incessantly harassed him for three years, compiling a 440-page file. Staking out Crow’s house, the FBI traced the license plates of all cars parked there, mounted a video recorder to a phone pole across the street, and kept a record of when he, his wife, and guests came and left. Agents also sifted through his trash, monitored his e-mails and phone calls, and infiltrated political meetings he attended.111

Despite all of this—from eminent domain to the surveillance state—some politicians and intellectuals insist that our government poses no threat to our rights. “The boogeyman government,” Senator Warren assures us, “is like the boogeyman under the bed. It is not real. It doesn’t exist.”112

Economic Power Versus Political Power

The rights violations highlighted above are far from exhaustive. But they sufficiently illustrate that the power of government is manifestly different from the power of a corporation. What exactly is the nature of this difference?

Broadly defined, power is the ability to achieve a goal effectively. Consider the kind of power a corporation has. It persuades investors or creditors to give it money by showing them it has a sound business plan. It rents or leases a store, a factory, or office space. It buys supplies and equipment. It entices people to work for it, offering salaries, benefits, and working conditions they voluntarily accept. It manages its employees, directing them to make a product or deliver a service. It invests in R&D to improve its products or create new ones. It develops partnerships with other companies. It advertises to inform people about its products. And it persuades people to become its customers by offering competitive prices and by developing a good reputation. A corporation, in short, has economic power: the ability to produce and trade.

Now consider the kind of power government has. It mandates some behaviors while banning others. It taxes incomes, estates, and property. It censors certain kinds of speech. It regulates how companies do business. It prohibits the sale of some goods while decreeing who can produce other goods. If people don’t comply with the government’s edicts, it fines, arrests, imprisons, or otherwise penalizes them. It does all of this because it is the institution vested with writing and enforcing the law. Government, in short, has political power: the legal authority to use physical force.113

The government’s proper—and only—purpose is to protect individual rights. It thus uses force legitimately when it retaliates against criminals. But when government initiates force against individuals, such use of force is illegitimate because it violates their rights. As we have seen, the government’s illegitimate use of force is pervasive.

When a corporation violates people’s rights, defrauding or robbing them, it does so illegally—and faces criminal penalties. Government, by contrast, can and often does violate people’s rights legally—and with impunity.

Unlike government, a corporation has no legal authority to force anyone to do anything.114 It can’t tax you, arrest you, or conscript you. It can’t force you to work for it. It can’t force you to invest in it. It can’t force you to buy its products. Bakan, however, says corporations “determine what we eat, what we watch, what we wear, where we work, and what we do.”115 No, they don’t. They make us offers, which we can accept or refuse. But those offers give us countless options to improve our lives—options we wouldn’t have otherwise. Far from a threat, the earned economic power of corporations brings us great benefits.

People interact with corporations voluntarily. If a corporation sells a shoddy product, people can refrain from buying it. If it sets prices they regard as too high, they can negotiate or look for a better deal. If it pays low wages or lays off employees, they can work elsewhere or start their own business. If people think Google and Facebook collect too much personal data while failing to properly safeguard it, they can use other platforms or services. Bottom line: If you don’t like a corporation, you can avoid it. You do not have this choice with government, though. Ignore the IRS, and fines, penalties, or prison await you. You can opt out of Google and Facebook, but you can’t opt out of the surveillance dragnet of the NSA.

Although the political power of government is fundamentally different from the economic power of a corporation, people often conflate them. A rife form of this error is to ascribe political power to corporations. Senator John Sherman, sponsor of the Antitrust Act (1890), committed this error when he said, “If we will not endure a king as a political power, we should not endure a king [referring to powerful corporations] over the production, transportation, and sale of any of the necessaries of life.”116 Author Naomi Klein commits this error when she says that a “select group of corporate Goliaths . . . have gathered to form our de facto global government.”117 Tucker Carlson commits this error when he says, “American tech companies . . . [have] replaced government as the leading vector of censorship.”118

A corporation, or any private organization, cannot censor anyone—only government can. Though Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have banned some people from their websites, refusing to give someone a platform is not censorship. These companies are exercising their property rights and their right to freedom of association, which includes the freedom not to associate. A bookstore not selling certain books, a magazine not publishing certain writers, a website not allowing certain content—none of this is censorship. A social media company can exclude a person from its platform, but unlike government, it cannot stop him from speaking elsewhere.

Jeremy Carl (National Review) says, “If I can’t get access to the 2 billion people on Facebook because Facebook doesn’t like my politics, my rights of free expression are greatly curtailed.”119 Although his opportunities to express himself might be curtailed, his right to express himself is not. He neither has a right to use Facebook’s platform nor a right to access its two billion users. Banning some people, however, is perhaps a bad business decision, and social media companies should be criticized when they are biased, inconsistent, or hypocritical. But in this context, they are not violating anyone’s rights, and they are fully within their own rights to remove content of which they disapprove.

Whereas some pundits wrongly ascribe political power to corporations, others argue that a corporation, merely by its size, can be more powerful than government. Law professor Timothy Kuhner cites a popular statistic: “Of the top 100 richest entities in the world, as measured by the Gross Domestic Product or sales, 52 are corporations and 48 are countries.”120 Though Kuhner doesn’t say explicitly that a corporation can be more powerful than government, others have. “Multinational corporations,” Thom Hartmann argues, “have greater powers even than governments.”121 Aisha Dodwell (New Internationalist) says, “The power of corporations has reached a level never before seen in human history, often dwarfing the power of states.”122 “Do corporations rule the world?” Korten asks, “Indeed, they do.”123

This argument is sheer folly. Among other reasons, corporations often need permission from foreign governments to do business—and they don’t always get it. India rejected Facebook’s free Internet plan and Apple’s plan to sell refurbished iPhones.124 China shut down Apple’s iTunes Movies and iBooks Store.125 Qualcomm scrapped its $44 billion merger with NXP Semiconductors after China refused to approve it.126 The European Union has heaped a regulatory onslaught on American tech companies over tax, privacy, and antitrust issues, including the three fines it imposed on Google totaling $9.3 billion.127 When ArcelorMittal cut production as demand fell, Russia threatened to seize two of its coal mines if it didn’t ramp production back up.128 And here in America, some local governments, including that of New York City, have blocked Walmart from setting up shop.129

The notion that corporations “rule the world” or can be more powerful than government is wrong. Economic power is incommensurate with political power. Government can tax, fine, and regulate a corporation—or censor it, or proscribe it, or break it up. A corporation cannot do any of these things to government.


Most assaults on corporations are as unjust as they are untrue. Yes, on rare occasions, some corporations violate people’s rights; yes, they should be condemned and held accountable when they do. Government, by contrast, regularly violates rights, including the rights of corporations. Despite countless claims to the contrary, political power—not economic power—is what must be limited. Unlike a government, a corporation is not a force-wielding institution; it is a voluntary, contract-based association of individuals. It is not a wealth-expropriating institution; it is a wealth-creating institution that profits by raising our standard of living.

For their endless innovations and productive achievements—the goods they create, the services they provide, the problems they solve—successful corporations deserve our deepest respect and admiration. And when they are unfairly attacked, they deserve our defense.

For their endless innovations and productive achievements, successful corporations deserve our deepest respect and admiration. And when they are unfairly attacked, they deserve our defense.
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1. Eric Brander, “Sanders: ‘If Wall Street Does Not End Its Greed, We Will End It for Them,’” CNN, January 5, 2016,

2. “Forum Post: First Official Release from Occupy Wall Street,” Occupy Forum, September 30, 2011,

3. Barack Obama, “Address at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia: ‘A More Perfect Union,’” March 18, 2008,

4. Matthew Yglesias, “Elizabeth Warren Has a Plan to Save Capitalism,” Vox, August 15, 2018, (emphasis added).

5. Noam Chomsky, How the World Works (New York: Soft Skull Press, 2011), 177.

6. Joel Bakan, The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power (New York: Free Press, 2004), 60 (emphasis added).

7. Marjorie Kelly, “A Legitimate Mandate? Maximizing Returns to Shareholders,” The Wealth Inequality Reader, edited by Dollars & Sense and United for a Fair Economy (Cambridge: Economic Affairs Bureau, 2004), 61.

8. Ralph Nader, “Class Warfare in Reverse,” January 13, 2007,

9. David C. Korten, When Corporations Rule the World, 20th anniversary ed. (Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler, 2015), 21.

10. Chomsky, How the World Works, 138.

11. Korten, When Corporations Rule the World, 233.

12. Thom Hartmann, Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights (Emmaus, PA: Rodale, 2004), 185.

13. Michael Moore, Downsize This! (New York: Crown, 1996), 15.

14. Bakan, Corporation, 60.

15. Louis K. Liggett Co. v. Lee, 288 U.S. 517 (1933), Justia,

16. Astead W. Herndon, “Elizabeth Warren Proposes Breaking up Tech Giants like Amazon and Facebook,” New York Times, March 8, 2019,

17. Elizabeth Warren, “Here’s How We Can Break up Big Tech,” Medium, March 8, 2019,

18. Robert B. Reich, The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It (New York: Knopf, 2020), 8.

19. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse with Melanie Wachtell Stinnett, Captured: The Corporate Infiltration of American Democracy (New York: New Press, 2017), 135.

20. “Big Tech Rigged against Conservatives?” Fox Business, August 29, 2018,

[21] “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” Fox News, May 7, 2019,

22. “Twitter Bans Alex Jones,” Fox News, September 10, 2018,

23. Christie-Lee McNally, “Big Tech’s Censorship of Conservative Users Is Alive and Well,” The Hill, July 14, 2018,

24. “Report Reveals How Tech Giants Censor Conservative Speech,” Fox News, April 16, 2018,

25. George Monbiot, “Taming Corporate Power: The Key Political Issue of Our Age,” Guardian, December 8, 2014,

26. Conor Lynch, “America’s Libertarian Freakshow: Inside the Free-Market Fetish of Rand Paul & Ted Cruz,” Salon, April 14, 2015,

27. Bakan, Corporation, 98, 148.

28. “Twitter Bans Alex Jones.”

29. Jeremy Carl, “How to Break Silicon Valley’s Anti-Free-Speech Monopoly,” National Review, August 15, 2017,

30. Robert Reich, “Break up Facebook (and While We’re at it, Google, Apple and Amazon),” Guardian, November 20, 2018,

31. Warren, “Here’s How We Can Break up Big Tech.”

32. “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” Fox News, March 8, 2019,

33. On May 27, 2020, Donald J. Trump tweeted, “Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives [sic] voices. We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen. We saw what they attempted to do, and failed, in 2016. We can’t let a more sophisticated version of that.” See

34. “Sanders, Sherman Introduce Legislation to Break Up Too Big to Fail Financial Institutions,” October 3, 2018,

35. “Full Transcript: 2019 Democratic Debate Night One, Sortable by Topic,” NBC News, June 27, 2019,

36. Korten, When Corporations Rule the World, 313.

37. The main features of a corporation include limited liability, perpetual (or unlimited) life, and entity status. Limited liability means that individual shareholders cannot be held personally liable for the corporation’s debts or torts. Perpetual life means that a corporation need not end when its original owners die; it can continue to exist even though its ownership changes. Entity status means that a corporation is legally considered a single unit separate from its shareholders—it can sue, be sued, and hold title to property in its name only.

38. Burt Neuborne, Madison’s Music: On Reading the First Amendment (New York: New Press, 2015), 70.

39. Frank Van Dun, “Is the Corporation a Free-Market Institution?,” Foundation for Economic Education, March 1, 2003,

40. Chomsky, How the World Works, 248.

41. Hartmann, Unequal Protection, 76.

42. Timothy Sandefur, The Right to Earn a Living: Economic Freedom and the Law (Washington, DC: Cato Institute, 2010), 26–27.

43. Anthony Kammer, “What Is a Corporation?,” Demos, October 24, 2012,

44. Robert Hessen, In Defense of the Corporation (Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1979), 26; Sandefur, Right to Earn a Living, 29.

45. Hessen, In Defense of the Corporation, 29–30, 33; Sandefur, Right to Earn a Living, 33–34.

46. Hessen, In Defense of the Corporation, 15–22, 43–46.

47. Hessen, In Defense of the Corporation, 19–20, 41; Steve Simpson, “Concerning Citizens United,” The Objective Standard 5, no. 2 (Summer 2010): 11.

48. Bakan, Corporation, 153–54.

49. Hartmann, Unequal Protection, 296.

50. “Full Transcript: 2019 Democratic Debate Night One.”

51. “AOC Signals She’d Support Biden If He Was Dem Nominee: ‘Absolutely’ Must Beat Trump,” ABC News, June 16, 2019,

52. Aamer Madhani, “Bernie Sanders: Walmart Resistance to Raising Minimum Wage Is ‘Grotesque,’ Slams Walton Family,” USA Today, June 4, 2019,

53. Robert Reich, “Why We Must End Upward Pre-Distributions to the Rich,” September 27, 2015,

54. “Forum Post: First Official Release from Occupy Wall Street.”

55. Sara Salinas, “Amazon Raises Minimum Wage to $15 for All US Employees,” CNBC, October 2, 2018,; Kelly Tyko, “Walmart Managers Take Home an Average of $175,000 a Year. How Much Do Their Workers Make?,” USA Today, May 8, 2019,

56. Robert D. Atkinson and Michael Lind, Big is Beautiful: Debunking the Myth of Small Business (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2018), 63–67, 73–74, 78; Robert D. Atkinson and Michael Lind, “Is Big Business Really That Bad?” The Atlantic, April 2018,; Kelly Edmiston, “The Role of Small and Large Businesses in Economic Development,” Economic Review, Second Quarter 2007,; Brianna Cardiff-Hicks, Francine Lafontaine, and Kathryn Shaw, “Do Large Modern Retailers Pay Premium Wages?,” National Bureau of Economic Research, working paper no. 20313, July 2014,

57. Atkinson and Lind, Big is Beautiful, 73.

58. Atkinson and Lind, Big is Beautiful, 69, 81–89.

59. Richard N. Langlois, “Hunting the Big Five: Twenty-First Century Antitrust in Historical Perspective,” The Independent Review 23, no. 3 (Winter 2019): 422, 424; Atkinson and Lind, Big is Beautiful, 51.

60. Chris McGreal, “Where Even Walmart Won’t Go: How Dollar General Took over Rural America,” Guardian, August 13, 2018,

61. “Senator Elizabeth Warren Delivers Remarks on Reigniting Competition in the American Economy,” June 29, 2016,

62. Atkinson and Lind, Big is Beautiful, 67–69, 99–115, 122–25, 189–90, 202–15, 223, 259.

63. Lina Khan, “New Tools to Promote Competition,” Democracy, 42 (Fall 2016),

64. On July 24, 2017, Donald J. Trump tweeted, “Is Fake News Washington Post being used as a lobbyist weapon against Congress to keep Politicians from looking into Amazon no-tax monopoly?” See

65. Carl, “How to Break Silicon Valley’s Anti-Free-Speech Monopoly.”

66. Here are more examples. Facebook and Twitter compete with Snapchat, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Reddit. Google’s Android operating system competes with iOS, Linux, and Windows. Google search competes with Bing, Yahoo, and DuckDuckGo. And Google’s Chrome browser competes with Edge, Firefox, and Opera. Note that this is far from an exhaustive list of each company’s competitors.

67. Eric Daniels, “Reversing Course: American Attitudes about Monopolies, 1607–1890,” The Abolition of Antitrust, edited by Gary Hull (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2005), 64–65, 67–68; Sandefur, Right to Earn a Living, 44.

68. Dominick T. Armentano, Antitrust and Monopoly: Anatomy of a Policy Failure, second edition (Oakland, CA: Independent Institute, 1990).

69. Warren, “Here’s How We Can Break up Big Tech” (emphasis added).

70. “Why We Must Bust up Big Tech,” Fox News, March 13, 2018,

71. For excellent critiques of antitrust, see Armentano, Antitrust and Monopoly; and Hull, The Abolition of Antitrust.

72. Sandefur, Right to Earn a Living, 56–58, 61–62, 64–65.

73. Thomas J. DiLorenzo, “The Myth of Natural Monopoly,” Review of Austrian Economics 9, no. 2 (1996),; Berin Szóka, Jon Henke, and Matthew Starr, “Don’t Blame Big Cable. It’s Local Governments that Choke Broadband Competition,” Wired, July 16, 2013,

74. Korten, When Corporations Rule the World, 278.

75. Marcio Cruz et al., “Ending Extreme Poverty and Sharing Prosperity: Progress and Policies,” World Bank Group, October 2015, 6,; “Poverty & Equity Data Portal,” World Bank,

76. Benjamin Powell, “In Defense of ‘Sweatshops,’” Library of Economics and Liberty, June 2, 2008,

77. Milo Geyelin, “How a Memo Written 26 Years Ago Is Costing General Motors Dearly,” Wall Street Journal, September 29, 1999, I use the GM example for illustrative purposes only. GM publicly denied all wrongdoing, and a plausible argument could be made in its defense.

78. Tyler Cowen, Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero (New York: St. Martin’s, 2019), 23–29, 34–36.

79. Susan Pulliam and Deborah Solomon, “How Three Unlikely Sleuths Exposed Fraud at WorldCom,” Wall Street Journal, October 30, 2002,

80. Robert A. Levy and William Mellor, The Dirty Dozen: How Twelve Supreme Court Cases Radically Expanded Government and Eroded Freedom (New York: Sentinel, 2008), 156–58, 163–64.

81. Steven Greenhut, Abuse of Power: How the Government Misuses Eminent Domain (Santa Ana, CA: Seven Locks, 2004), 2, 52, 63–64.

82. Dana Berliner, “Public Power, Private Gain,” Institute for Justice, April 2003, 2,; Dana Berliner, “Opening the Floodgates: Eminent Domain Abuse in the Post-Kelo World,” Institute for Justice, June 2006, 1–3,

83. Greenhut, Abuse of Power, 61, 66.

84. For a review of the movie, see Nicholas Provenzo, “Little Pink House: Dramatizing the Horror of Eminent Domain,” The Objective Standard, May 2, 2018,

85. Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005),

86. “Donald Trump on Eminent Domain: I Think It’s Wonderful,” October 7, 2015,

87. United States of America v. $124,700 in U.S. Currency, 458 F.3d 822 (8th Cir. 2006),

88. Sarah Stillman, “Taken,” New Yorker, August 5, 2013,

89. Marian R. Williams et al., “Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture,” Institute for Justice, March 2010, 9, 13, 23,

90. Shaila Dewan, “Law Lets I.R.S. Seize Accounts on Suspicion, No Crime Required,” New York Times, October 25, 2014,

91. Christopher Ingraham, “Since 2007, the DEA Has Taken $3.2 Billion in Cash from People Not Charged with a Crime,” Washington Post, March 29, 2017,

92. Dewan, “Law Lets I.R.S. Seize Accounts on Suspicion, No Crime Required.”

93. “Attorney General Confirmation Hearing, Day 1, Part 1,” C-SPAN, January 28, 2015, (see 2:34:30 and 2:38:01).

94. Some people argue that programs such as Social Security are “social insurance,” not wealth redistribution. Because Social Security recipients paid money into the program, according to this view, they therefore have “earned” what they get back. This argument is half true. Recipients are justified in accepting Social Security benefits because they were forced to pay in. But the fact that most recipients are also victims doesn’t change the coercive, redistributionist nature of the program. The government taking money from generation B to give to generation A is theft. It is also theft, however, when the government then takes from generation C to give back to B, then from D to give back to C, and so on.

95. On September 24, 2019, Bernie Sanders tweeted, “There should be no billionaires. We are going to tax their extreme wealth and invest in working people. Read the plan.” See

96. Bernie Sanders, “Tax on Extreme Wealth,”

97. Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to Joseph Milligan,” April 6, 1816,

98. Annals of Congress, House of Representatives, 3rd Congress, 1st Session, January 1794, 170,

99. Michael B. Mukasey and John G. Malcolm, “Criminal Law and the Administrative State: How the Proliferation of Regulatory Offences Undermines the Moral Authority of Our Criminal Laws,” Liberty’s Nemesis: The Unchecked Expansion of the State, edited by Dean Reuter and John Yoo (New York: Encounter Books, 2016), 284–86, 290; Go Directly to Jail, edited by Gene Healy (Washington, DC: Cato Institute, 2004), 23–26, 40–41, 47–50.

100. Randall Fitzgerald, Mugged by the State: Outrageous Government Assaults on Ordinary People and their Property (Washington, DC: Regnery, 2003), 103.

101. Lesa Jansen and Todd Sperry, “EPA Official Resigns over ‘Crucify’ Remark,” CNN, April 30, 2012,

102. Timothy Sandefur, The Permission Society: How the Ruling Class Turns Our Freedoms into Privileges and What We Can Do about it (New York: Encounter Books, 2016).

103. Luzi Hail, Ahmed Tahoun, and Clare Wang, “Can Regulators Prevent Corporate Scandals? What 200 Years of History Tell Us,” Oxford Business Law Blog, September 18, 2017,

104. John W. Whitehead, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging Police State (New York: SelectBooks, 2013), 14–17, 49, 75, 99–100, 116, 213; “Myths and Realities about the Patriot Act,” ACLU,

105. Glenn Greenwald, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2013); Whitehead, Government of Wolves.

106. Edward Snowden, Permanent Record (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2019), 223–24; Greenwald, No Place to Hide, 28, 70–71, 73–77, 81, 93–94, 109–11, 116, 150.

107. Nicole Perlroth, Jeff Larson, and Scott Shane, “N.S.A. Able to Foil Basic Safeguards of Privacy on Web,” New York Times, September 5, 2013,; Greenwald, No Place to Hide, 118–19.

108. Greenwald, No Place to Hide, 153–60.

109. Snowden, Permanent Record, 279.

110. Quoted in Colin Moynihan and Scott Shane, “For Anarchist, Details of Life as F.B.I. Target,” New York Times, May 28, 2011,

111. Moynihan and Shane, “For Anarchist, Details of Life as F.B.I. Target.”

112. Quotable Elizabeth Warren, edited by Frank Marshall (New York: Skyhorse, 2014), 5.

113. I am indebted to Ayn Rand for identifying the essential difference between economic power and political power. See Ayn Rand, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (New York: Signet, 1967), 46–48.

114. Some corporations can have legal authority to use force, but that is only because government has delegated that authority to them for a specific purpose. The most common example of this is government outsourcing one of its functions, such as operating prisons, to a private company.

115. Bakan, Corporation, 5.

116. 21 Cong. Rec., 2457 (1889),

117. Naomi Klein, No Logo (Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2009), xxxvii.

118. “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” Fox News, March 5, 2019,

119. Carl, “How to Break Silicon Valley’s Anti-Free-Speech Monopoly.”

120. Timothy K. Kuhner, “The Separation of Business and State,” California Law Review 95, no. 6 (December 2007): 2361, Aside from the error of conflating economic power with political power, comparing the sales of a corporation to the GDP of a nation is comparing apples to oranges. GDP measures national income. The relevant number to compare this to would be a corporation’s profits, not its sales.

121. Hartmann, Unequal Protection, 148.

122. Aisha Dodwell, “Corporations Running the World Used to Be Science Fiction—Now It’s a Reality,” New Internationalist, September 16, 2016,

123. Korten, When Corporations Rule the World, 330.

124. David Meyer, “Facebook’s Free Basics Service Just Became Illegal In India,” Fortune, February 8, 2016,; Manish Singh, “Apple’s Plan to Sell Used iPhones in India Officially Gets Rejected,” CNET, May 30, 2016,

125. Paul Mozur and Jane Perlez, “Apple Services Shut Down in China in Startling About-Face,” New York Times, April 21, 2016,

126. Michael Martina and Stephen Nellis, “Qualcomm Ends $44 Billion NXP Bid after Failing to Win China Approval,” Reuters, July 25, 2018,

127. Kelly Couturier, “How Europe Is Going After Apple, Google and Other U.S. Tech Giants,” New York Times, December 20, 2016,; Charles Riley and Ivana Kottasová, “Europe Hits Google with a Third, $1.7 Billion Antitrust Fine,” CNN, March 20, 2019,

128. Alfred Kueppers and Natalya Shurmina, “Russia Region Says Could Take Arcelormittal Mines,” Reuters, July 10, 2009,

129. Michelle Lodge, “Walmart Is Still Being Banned From One of the World’s Biggest Cities, but Oddly Target Isn’t,” TheStreet, March 26, 2017,; “Wal-Mart Loses Appeal to High Court,” Los Angeles Times, July 13, 2006,

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