Socialism and the Corporation: A Love-Hate Relationship

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Socialists would rather the traditional American firm did not exist. Animosity towards the capitalist boss for reaping all the rewards of his employees’ labor, or (perhaps worse) towards the joint-stock corporation, where workers don’t even know who they’re being exploited by, is a staple of socialist rhetoric. Ideally corporations would be replaced by worker-owned cooperatives or nationalized sectoral industries, but if not, they’ll be strictly controlled through regulation, and their owners and stockholders taxed to oblivion.

Margaret Thatcher called this “the politics of envy.” Her message that it was sinful successfully countered the idea that profit is about greed and turned the British Labour Party from a democratic-socialist party to a social-democracy party for over two decades.

But now the politics of envy is back in a big way. Not only are corporations accused of greed, they are alleged to be destroying the planet. New-style businesses such as Uber are accused of not just exploiting workers but outright cheating them. Yet increasingly socialists, realizing the political impossibility of getting rid of the corporations, are turning to co-opting them instead.

Corporations grow up because entrepreneurs need to find investors to help finance their businesses. In addition, to keep transaction costs low, they need to hire employees rather than contract for each individual routine transaction. That’s the foundation of the corporate structure of owners, management, and workers.

For the past century, that structure has been under attack by socialist activists, who have long viewed corporations as ideological battlegrounds, with management arrayed against workers. You will probably notice there a shift in target from Marx: Management is the enemy, not ownership. In fact, much of the Naderite-era attack on corporations was based on the idea that corporate management did not act in the stockholder owners’ interest.

Read the full article at National Review