Bill Totten's Weblog

Friday, December 18, 2009

Can Large Corporations Exist in a Free Market? (December 12 2009)

In this thread on, someone was asking about free markets and corporations:

Can large corporations exist in a really free market?

The argument against corporations is that they receive massive direct and indirect State subsidies.

If I want to borrow $1 million to start a business, I can't borrow at all or I'll pay extortionate interest rates.

If the CEO of a large corporation wants to borrow $1 billion, he can borrow on very favorable terms. This distorts the market in favor of large corporations.

A pro-State trolls says "That's because FSK is uncreditworthy!", but it's more than that. Executives at a large corporation have a State-backed monopoly/oligopoly. That's collateral for the loan. As an individual, the loan is only backed by my own future labor.

Real interest rates are negative. The CEO of a large corporation receives a huge subsidy when he borrows $1 billion at a real interest rate of -10% or less. The central bank credit monopoly and paper money concentrate economic power in the hands of people who print and spend new money. I can't avoid subsidizing the CEO of a large corporation unless I also boycott the State's paper money.

Regulations also subsidize large corporations. The cost of regulation compliance is usually fixed rather than per-unit. Suppose it costs $1 million to comply with a regulation. If I sell 1000 units, my regulation cost is $1000 each. If I sell ten million units, my regulation cost is $0.10 each. "Economies of scale" are an illusion. The "economy of scale" myth derives from "Larger businesses can more easily lobby the State for favors!" Large corporations squeeze out smaller competitors, because there's a terrorist organization that harasses all small business owners.

It'd be very hard to have a business larger than 100 to 200 without State restriction of the market. That's the natural maximum size of a human social group.

Suppose that someone is a brilliant manager and can oversee a 100 person factory. Why should he work for a large corporation? Instead, he should raise capital and start his own factory.

In a free market, anyone who's a really good worker would be able to start his own competing business, rather than work for a large corporation or work as an employee. Without a central bank credit monopoly, a skilled worker could raise money borrowing from friends. In the present, it's be foolish for a non-bank to lend me money. Either they would charge me an extortionate interest rate, or receive a return far less than true inflation.

In order to have large corporations, you need State restriction of the capital market, making it hard for individuals to start new businesses. You need State regulations, which impose extra costs on small business owners.

As another example, suppose a small business owner has $100,000 in revenue. He probably has to spend $5000 on accountants, just to make sure he's in compliance with the tax laws. That's effectively a tax of five percent. A large corporation with $10 billion in revenue might spend $10 million on accountants. That's a tax of only 0.1%.

Large corporations can most effectively lobby the State for favors. That's completely unrelated to any efficiency gains. If you own a $100,000 business, you can't afford to bribe a Congressman. If you control a $10 billion corporation, then a $10 million lobbying budget is a negligible expense.

A large corporation is not genuinely efficient. A large corporation is most efficient at overcoming the overhead costs imposed by the State. A large corporation is most effective at lobbying the State for favors.

In a really free market, would a business be able to impose a "limited liability" clause on its customers? Suppose you sat down in a restaurant, and the waiter made you sign a limited liability agreement, waiving damages if you get food poisoning. Would you really sign it?

Suppose a bank required a "limited liability" clause in its deposit contract. Would you really deposit your savings there? If you got a higher interest rate than other banks, it would only be because you're risking the loss of your savings due to the "limited liability" clause.

Also, a fair free market court would probably not enforce a "limited liability" clause that is obviously misleading. A customer sitting in a restaurant doesn't expect to get food poisoning. Therefore, the restaurant has no right to demand the customer waive that liability.

As another example, suppose a business is incorporated. It pollutes and leaks oil into groundwater at a cost of $100 million to cleanup. The business has only $1 million in assets. The owners declare bankruptcy when the pollution is discovered. Even though the victims had no contractual relationship with the polluter, limited liability incorporation protected the polluter from his misconduct.

In the present, State incorporation allows business owners to force limited liability clauses on all customers. Limited liability incorporation protects management of a corporation from liability even by people who have no relationship with that corporation. When you limited liability incorporate, you're contracting with the State and not your customers.

"Corporations naturally exist in a really free market" is a mistake that pro-State (L)libertarians often make. Corporations are an artificial creation of the State. Large corporations only exist because of direct and indirect State subsidies. In a really free market, no customer would agree to a limited liability clause.

It's unlikely that you would see businesses larger than 100 to 200 people in a really free market. There may be several cooperating businesses, but no mega- conglomerates. "Limited liability incorporation is a necessary perk for doing business!" is a common pro-State troll mistake. All limited liability incorporation accomplishes is that it allows management to immune from the negative consequences of misconduct and failure. Limited liability incorporation gives management a free put option to declare bankruptcy and cheat their creditors.

Contrary to what most pro-State troll (L)libertarians say, limited liability incorporation won't occur in a really free market.

Bill Totten


  • Of course giant international corporations cannot exist
    in a free market, which is why the U.S. Empire is built around those enlarging world corporations.

    By Blogger suzannedk, at 7:59 PM, December 18, 2009  

  • Of course giant international corporations cannot exist
    in a free market, which is why the U.S. Empire is built around those enlarging world corporations.

    By Blogger suzannedk, at 8:00 PM, December 18, 2009  

  • a business enterprise is not a social group, that is why they get larger than 100-200 people.

    In the entire history of the world, there has never been a group of people existing above the level of could-be-starving-tomorrow, pregnant-at-13-dead-at 33, which didn't have a centralized government of some size. Complaining about the sequelae of the State is akin to complaining about the sequelae of gravity.

    You aren't going to get a loan for $1 million, because you aren't plugged into reality. The bankers are in the business of separating the wheat from the chaff.

    The folks who are actually running productive small enterprises, aren't the ones who are complaining about larger enterprises. The complaints always come from people who are useless mouths to feed.

    Your opinion is commonplace. This reflects the poor quality of education in North America.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:31 AM, December 19, 2009  

  • I build a corporate empire in machine parts and generic drugs. I decide to diversify and employ a CEO. My CEO runs my business poorly while I'm involved in a biotech startup. My company gets sued because someones equipment broke loose due to improperly tempered material due to said CEO's attempt to raise bottom line even though we are a privately held company. The injured persons sue and we're forced to refund those last shipments. Am I responsible because a trust-fund idiot mis represented himself?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:23 PM, January 05, 2010  

  • This won't succeed as a matter of fact, that's exactly what I consider.

    By Anonymous, at 3:03 PM, July 20, 2011  

  • I saw a lot of helpful data above!

    By Anonymous, at 5:36 AM, October 09, 2011  

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