Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Why the HP Spying Scandal Matters To Average Folk

The resignations of Hewlett-Packard's Chairman Patricia Dunn and longtime director George A. Keyworth II in the wake of allegations that Dunn may have authorized potentially illegal spying methods on Keyworth's phone records are the latest chapter in the largest corporate scandal currently playing out in the public arena. It's tempting to shrug and say, "Well, I guess that's the way it is in the big corporations today," and pay no more attention till the trials. As a left-libertarian who is averse to the concentration of power in people's hands, whether it be as agents of a governmental body or as agents of a corporate body, I have to hope that Average Folk will start to notice that all is not well here.

What's really happening here is that corporations have bought so much influence in government that they now are starting to see themselves as a natural part of it. And they are not incorrect in that perception. They have long been accustomed to being able to influence legislation and policies and contract bidding processes to their own favor. They are used to getting their friends in government to wield government's police power to squash their small upstart competitors. They get government to extend patents and copyrights long beyond the lifetimes of the original creators, thereby giving the corporations outrageous monopoly power over many items in the worldwide economy.

In short, with corporations wielding so much power through governmental influence, it's no wonder that some corporate heads are seeing their corporations as little kingdoms in which they are akin to regents. If you're already drunk with the corrupting influence of power, it's not a great step to feel it's okay to spy on your employees. Sure, get someone to "pretext" they're your employee so you can get their phone records. Hey, if you can get the government to throw people out of their homes so you can build a Wal-Mart there, why can't you go ahead and get a list of all the phone calls made by an employee who displeases you? In many ways, it's a much lesser crime.

The solution here is to weaken corporate power. Conservatives don't see this, so we've got a lot of educating to do on that side. Liberals see this, but they don't realize that their solution -- increasing the power of government -- won't work. It's the power of government that has given corporations their power. I have to hope that Average Folk will see that the time has come to reduce the power of government over people's lives, and therefore reduce the power of corporations over people's lives.



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