Everyone seems to need a narrative of good against evil -- even people who don't believe in God or in Satan. Take Noam Chomsky, scourge of U.S. imperialism. In the lefty mockumentary The Corporation, he delicately compares corporations to slaveowners:
When you look at a corporation, just like when you look at a slaveowner, you want to distinguish between the institution and the individual. So slavery, for example, or other forms of tyranny, are inherently monstrous, but the individuals participating in them may be the nicest guys you can imagine... As individuals they may be anything. In their institutional role they are monsters because the institution is monstrous.
To place this in context, Noam Chomsky is discussing corporate CEOs laying off employees.
In Chomsky's world, evil is a corporate layoff. Presumably, the good is symbolized by government-financed university professors fighting for peace and justice.
Of course, conservatives are pushing the reverse narrative. To us, corporations are mostly beneficent institutions that occasionally make mistakes. But government is all about power, and so the recently passed health care cram-down is canonical. No doubt the Reids, the Pelosis, and the Obamas are the nicest chaps in the world. But in their institutional role as power politicians, they are monsters. Because government is force, and force is monstrous. That's why you need limited government.
The problem for conservatives is that even in this center-right country, too many people seem to agree with Chomsky. They give the benefit of the doubt to government, but they are outraged when corporations are less than perfect. Ask Toyota about that. Economist Gary Becker explains the problem to Peter Robinson in The Wall Street Journal:
People tend to impute good motives to government. And if you assume that government officials are well meaning, then you also tend to assume that government officials always act on behalf of the greater good. People understand that entrepreneurs and investors by contrast just try to make money, not act on behalf of the greater good. And they have trouble seeing how this pursuit of profits can lift the general standard of living.
The purpose of a video like The Corporation is to exploit this imputation. Trust the community; trust government. Don't trust corporations.
If only it were true. Instead, politics is all about making big promises to get elected so you can get your hands on the levers of power. But business is all about giving the consumer what she wants, again and again; only then can you make big profits.
Still not convinced? The Prisoner's Dilemma ought to convince you. It deals with the basic question of trust. Should you trust your fellow prisoner in the next cell, or rat on him? The decision, scholars agree, depends on whether this is the last time you will ever see your partner in crime. In the final transaction between two people, it pays to cheat. If the government is offering to let you disappear into the federal witness protection program in return for testimony, then the decision is simpler.
That's the position of a politician running for election. If he doesn't win, he'll never have to go before the voters again. He'll promise anything and everything. But the relationship between you and the local supermarket is different. The supermarket wants you to come back again and again. They need your trust, and they need to renew it every day. That's why they have such generous return policies.
The challenge to conservatives after the ObamaCare cram-down is simple. If we want to succeed in our quest of restoring limited government, we must persuade the American people of the truth: It is much better trust a businessman than a politician. If you want decent health care, then you don't want the government involved -- not if you don't want a $30-trillion unfunded deficit. If you want decent education for your children, then you don't want the government in the loop -- your kid will need remedial classes when he gets to college. If you want to give the poor a hand up and not a handout, then you need to keep the government out of it; otherwise, the government will end up smashing the low-income family.
Of course, if your idea of justice is to force the American people to pay for your education and your health care, then go ahead. Grow government.
These are exciting days for conservatives. There's a sense that the tide of battle is shifting after four years of Democratic advance. But if we are to make more than a temporary counterattack, then we need to change the narrative.
No, it's not the insurance companies -- it's the government's taxes and subsidies. It's not the bankers -- it's the government's credit policy.
The corporations won't tell the American people. The liberals won't. They trust government like they trust themselves.
So it's up to us. It's up to conservatives to tell the story. For all of our material needs, it's better to trust corporations over government.