No Matter What They Actually Say, the Public Trusts Private Corporations More Than Government, And I Can Prove It

As a libertarian, I find myself constantly saying to folks something like:  "private actors (corporations, businesses, individuals, etc. are inherently more trustworthy than government because they cannot legally interact with you through force or fraud -- the government is free to do both.  If you don't like what a private actor is doing, you can simply refuse to interact with them further, an ability one does not have with the government."  This seems like such an obvious point but few people, particularly on the Left, will ever agree with me.  But I have recent proof that in their hearts, most people understand this perfectly.

What is my proof?  The universal, bipartisan freakout over the man who was dragged off by force from a United flight.  People are focusing on this event for the very fact that this example of a private company deploying force against its customers is so incredibly rare.  The Internet is filled with similar or in fact much worse examples of the government abusing its authority -- false arrests, petty harassment, asset seizures without due process -- but people just yawn and these videos gets 236 views  vs. millions for the United video.  Because, presumably, people have come to expect such abuses from the government but not from private companies.

And to a large extent, this particular example of private violence is the exception that will prove the rule.  Because United is going to experience real accountability.  It is already getting a firestorm of bad press that will cost them current and future business.  They will face lawsuits and possible government action.  But the average police officer or government official (or VA or IRS administrator) who abuses their power retain their jobs for life with no negative consequences from their actions.  Also, we should note that it was a government agent in this case who was the one who actually used force and dragged the passenger off, not a private United employee.  Almost every time one looks deeply at an abuse by private companies, at the end of the day that company is enabled or protected in doing so by so some sort of crony relationship with the government.

So I suppose we should ask, if people really in their hearts understand that private "power" is much less menacing than government power, why do they still support increasing the power of government over private actors?  And the answer must be that they believe (or hope, or expect) that use of this government power will achieve some end they want that they cannot achieve without force.  The problem with this of course is that it is naive -- it assumes that once you give great power to the government, government employees will use this power in the way you would use it, for the same goals and ends.  But this is seldom the case, certainly over the long haul.  I argued for years that the Left under the Obama administration was supporting Presidential power on the assumption they would hold the White House forever and thus get to wield all this power.  Which is why, I suppose, there has been so much freakout over Donald Trump's victory.

Postscript:  Here is an example video of government brutality just from my news feed today.  It will get no real traction because everyone has come to expect the government to act in this manner.


  1. Ruggerbunny:

    "If you don't like what a private actor is doing, you can simply refuse to interact with them further, an ability one does not have with the government."

    Unless they are the coal mine down the road dumping toxins in the water to extract coal to sell somewhere else. I would have to interact with them without choice every day, and have no recourse except government intervention. You can insert all sorts of companies here that separate end consumers with where they manufacture or extract their products.

  2. Earl Wertheimer:

    Straw Man Argument: The Mine or Factory has all kinds of reasons for being a 'good' neighbour. In addition, there are laws and penalties that can be invoked of they pollute someone else's property.

    When the government pollutes... good luck. Animas River, anyone?

    If a mining company had done this, the outcry and subsequent cleanup would have made front page news for weeks...

  3. Dan Wendlick:

    Except the guys doing the dragging were Chicago cops, not United employees.

  4. Richard Harrington:

    Private transactions are usually willing, and involve an exchange of value between the two involved parties. Non-profit (including governmental actions) involve taking money from one group of people and distributing that money to a different group. That disconnect can lead to all sorts of issues, especially all sorts of conflict-of-interest. For example, many cities are using police forces and traffic light cameras as their source of revenue. With private industry the customers can usually just go elsewhere.

    However, with the prevalence of video recording everywhere, these sorts of events will be a lot more public...

  5. kidmugsy:

    If I may say so, you are in sparkling form Mr Coyote.

  6. Ruggerbunny:

    "In addition, there are laws and penalties that can be invoked of they pollute someone else's property."

    Discussing this not in a manner that the government would have run the mine better, but as a justification for government intervention, something most libertarians tend to disfavor. Which is what the highlighted statement above implies. I was also pointing out that there are many other interactions that don't happen willingly. Not a straw man.

    Really? A large number of corporations commit dirty deeds overseas and in other states from where you live, deeds that if done next to your property would likely cause some serious anger. How many of these companies do you no longer use? How many in general have been boycotted?

  7. SamWah:

    Eric Garner, selling single cigarettes in NYC, as an example.

  8. mlhouse:

    While I agree with you, I am sorry but you cannot stand in the middle of the road and confront the police and the claim that he is being beaten for "jaywalking" are bullshit. If he would have "jaywalked" and been on the sidewalk, spoken respectfully to the police officer he would have been on his merry way. Instead, he confronted the officer. When you do that, as Chris Rock say, you are going to get your ass beat by the Po leece. ANyone who does that, of any race, is going to get beat.

  9. c_andrew:

    Um, I don't think that the black guy confronted the police while standing in the middle of the road. No video to establish that, but that would indicate that the cop was already in the road and the black guy walked out to confront him.

    The confrontation was most likely initiated in the middle of the road by the cop. Who probably did it for psychological reasons - to place the citizen at further disadvantage. If he had been merely interested in issuing a citation, he would have waited until the jaywalker cleared the road and then issued the citation.

    Now maybe the cops I grew up around were unique for their time and place, but I don't think so. They were honorable guys.

    I have observed a sea-change in cop attitudes over the last 4 decades that would appall the cops I knew. I think what we are seeing is the policy change - moving cops from defenders of the citizenry to enforcers of victimless crimes and collectors of revenue - has created a self-selection bias where guys who like to push people around are lining up to be cops.

    If you read the accompanying story - and if it is actually true - this guy was employed as an assistant manager, had never had a run in with the cops, and had no criminal record. Not exactly the kind of person who is going to initiate a confrontation with a cop.

    I would like to think that we could get back to the honorable policing of my youth. But the perverse incentives engendered by our current policing policies makes me think that that is an increasingly false hope.

  10. mlhouse:

    My guess is that you would make the same statements in all of these situations. And, while there are bad cops, the people they are policing are worse. That is why the "honorable" policing of your youth doesnt exist anymore. Violence and the lack of respect for authority have taken their toll and police officers justifiably have changed their tactics and have less tolerance. No way I would want to do that job when people are screaming at you and you are in such dnager.

  11. c_andrew:

    No. I was suspicious of the Ferguson narrative from the get go. And it was very shortly validated by the position of the wounds on the body.
    What happened to the Dallas cops was an atrocity. If any big city police force is doing it right, it is the Dallas guys.
    But on the flip side, I've seen the bullying that police resort to today regardless of whether their life is in danger. I had a city cop and a county sheriff come into my place of business and attempt to intimidate me into committing a federal felony. The same felony that Lois Lerner skated on?
    I explained the law to them and what they needed, by federal standards, to secure the release of that information. I also pointed out that since we filed copies of that information with the federal authorities that they could also seek the release from that source as well. The standards for release are the same.
    I was then subjected to shouting, intimidation, and a threat of arrest for 'obstruction.' That was when I picked up the phone.
    "Who are you calling?"
    "I'm calling my attorney first. Then I'm reporting you to the postal inspectors for attempting to suborn a federal felony."
    Boy, did their attitude change. They apologized and bowed and scraped and said all that wouldn't be necessary.
    I wasn't threatening them. I wasn't the one yelling. The bad behavior of police is not merely a result of the danger they find themselves in on occasion but of getting away with such behavior without effective sanction.
    I would argue that the lack of respect for authority has come about because of bad cops. I think that you are reversing cause and effect here, at least in regard to the middle class folks.
    One of the atrocities of the Black Lives Matter movement - I say atrocity because I don't think that it is inadvertent enough to call it a tragedy - is that they have effectively put an end to any discussion of the social pathologies and their genesis in black and minority communities - including the effect of various leftist policies in the destroying those same communities. By the same token, they have made reasonable discussion of pathologies in the our policing communities nearly impossible. A definite instance of lose-lose.

  12. Mason:

    How does that boot taste?

  13. joe:

    Back prior to the enactment of ACA - I had similar conversations on why the government/single payer was going to provide better health care because, "the insurance companies would no longer deny services in order to increase profits"

    Being progressives, they had no concept that denying services would hurt the insurance companies profits for numerous reasons, with the primary reason is the loss of market share. Denying coverage will cause the loss of lots of employer group coverage, Lose coverage, then the insurance company loses market share and lose negotiating power with providers, etc
    secondly denying coverage creates legal liability, where as the government has immunity for denying coverage.

    Similar in that the united air is a limited fiasco

  14. slocum:

    I wish I agreed, but I don't think this is the right explanation -- I think many people are willing to give government the benefit of the doubt ("Government is a word for things we do together") but they don't extend that to for-profit corporations. Abusive or corrupt government officials are taken as exceptions, while behavior like United's is considered typical of 'profit-driven greed'. And they don't even notice that the guy was kicked off the plane by government agents (airport police) and according to FAA rules.

  15. ErikTheRed:

    Ummm... there's another party involved here: the owner of said water, who sets the terms and conditions for what other parties put into it, is responsible for monitoring what others put into it, and enforcing against trespass (which pollution is a form of). Just like any other form of property.

    Of course, this other party is the government. I find it interesting that the left focuses exclusively on one party and enthusiastically buries their head in the sand with regards to the other while *simultaneously* demanding that the other party be given arbitrarily more power to deal with the problems caused by them failing to perform their basic responsibility to act as stewards of that which they claim control over.

  16. David Gillies:

    To the extent a company occupies a protected niche by dint of government regulation, it will feel enabled to act in a coercive or malign fashion. No customer of a business that did not receive the level of cozy regulatory swaddling that the airlines do would ever have been treated in this fashion. Normal businesses know from whence derives their existence: customers. Shield them from the consequences of their actions and that calculus no longer holds.

  17. Bistro:

    My very first day in San Diego my brother and I stood on a street downtown and stepped aside for the cop on the motorcycle who rode up over the curb and down the packed sidewalk to chase down and cite a man who had walked across the street against the light. Got a solid understanding for the 'law' in my new homeport which was welded into place when the same cops chased down a man in a stolen main battle tank and killed him while he was out joyriding.
    I'm kind of surprised people don't just shoot them out of hand. Oh, but wait, they do.

  18. Bistro:

    100% agree. The cops did it to themselves by their own bad actions and threw away any remaining shred of legitimacy they had long ago.

  19. Bistro:

    Hanford? Oak Ridge? Navy Shipyards? Unexploded chemical rounds buried in a swank/posh neighborhood in northwest DC?

  20. Earl of Sandwich:

    its amazing that, even in a short piece like this one, people seem to never actually *read* material before commenting =


    "".... the average police officer or government official (or VA or
    IRS administrator) who abuses their power retain their jobs for life
    with no negative consequences from their actions. Also, we should note
    that *it was a government agent in this case who was the one who actually
    used force and dragged the passenger off, not a private United
    employee*. Almost every time one looks deeply at an abuse by private
    companies, at the end of the day that company is enabled or protected in
    doing so by so some sort of crony relationship with the government.""

  21. Ole_Hickory:

    I agree completely with your points. Nevertheless, FWIW, the example of police brutality you ended with was covered in the press and the incident is subject to a criminal investigation. Hopefully, in this instance, the Cop will be held responsible.