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 . . .

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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