A Hollywood dystopian plotline cliché depicts large corporations as despotic exploiters controlling society and manipulating individuals to maximize profits.
Think “Alien.” Think “Blade Runner.” Think “Robocop.”
I have always thought that this villainous corporations plotline was a stretch. Free societies would never, I assumed, surrender personal liberty to the control of big business. But recent developments have convinced me that I was wrong.
Big business is exerting increasing control over our lives and even establishing its own quasi-public policies. And, it turns out, this corporate hegemony isn’t so much about maximizing profits—as in the movie plots—as it is enforcing woke cultural and technocratic policy orthodoxies.
Consider what happened in 2015, when Indiana passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The country’s most powerful corporations threatened to boycott the state, claiming that the law would sanction discrimination against the LGBT community. Worried about a vast loss of business opportunities, a second law was soon passed significantly narrowing the RFRA’s scope of protection.
The same formula was deployed by corporate leaders in 2016, when North Carolina passed a law requiring people who use government building public restrooms to use facilities consistent with their biological sex. “Bigotry!” screamed our cultural overseers—many of which happily do business with the communist Chinese that harvest the organs of Falun Gong political prisoners. Soon, the state legislature yielded to the pressure and substantially gutted the law.
The coming of COVID-19 added much heft to the power of corporations to become policy enforcers. First, it was private businesses requiring that masks be worn by all customers—whether or not the law required it. Given the liability potential, the protection masks may provide for employees, and the shell-shocked attitudes of many shoppers, masking demands aren't a significant intrusion on personal liberty.
But these mandates established the principle that it's a legitimate function of the private sector to enforce public health policies, and even, “voluntary” guidelines.
Private-Sector AuthoritarianismBut we are in a public health emergency, Wesley! Yes, I know. But private-sector authoritarianism won't end with the waning of the pandemic. Already, members of the ruling class are suggesting that similar liberty-constraining strategies be deployed as a means of fighting the “climate crisis.”
Similarly, pandemic-fighting guru Dr. Anthony Fauci called for rebuilding “the infrastructure of human existence, from cities to homes to workplaces, to water and sewer systems, to recreational and gatherings venues.” Those gargantuan tasks wouldn't be carried out primarily by government, but, to a great extent, pursued and enforced by the private sector.
This emerging corporatocracy is already flexing its muscles. YouTube refused to post videos of scientists with heterodox views on fighting COVID-19 with lockdowns. Facebook has prevented fundraising and advertising for causes and ideas that its woke workforce finds triggering.
Enacting PoliciesMeanwhile, private companies have begun enacting their own quasi-public policies that have gone well beyond the already mentioned pressure placed on Indiana and North Carolina.
One can easily envisage even broader corporate ideological enforcement paradigms entering the insurance, commercial real estate, manufacturing, and other business sectors.
All of this disturbingly parallels the Chinese Communist Party’s despotic “social credit system,” which deploys cutting edge computer technologies to spy on its citizens. Comply with the state diktats, and one’s rent can be lowered. Receiving too many demerits by defying communist rules can lead to eviction, loss of a job, and the inability to ride public transportation.
If we aren't careful, the world’s largest and most powerful corporations could establish an analogous private-sector authoritarianism—not to enforce loyalty to the state but acquiescence in social and cultural orthodoxies dictated by “experts” and cultural “influencers.” And there would be no way to “throw the rascals out,” as can be done in democratic governance, since it would just be a matter of private firms creating their own desired business practices.
Here's the bottom line (if you will): If we are to prevent the looming corporatocracy, we must establish robust checks and balances that would limit the power of big business to ride herd over our individual behavior. We had better act fast. The freedom we lose could be our own.