Big Business Getting Something for Nothing

In early June, as a prelude to an expansive study of the Fortune 500 due later this summer, Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) published an analysis of “the current corporate tax debate.” Anarchists oppose taxes on principle as an exalted form of theft, but the fact that the most profitable firms in the country aren’t paying up raises other important questions.

Arguing that the “tax code has … become overburdened with loopholes, shelters and special tax breaks,” CTJ’s study demonstrates that twelve of America’s largest companies currently pay, in effect, a tax rate of negative 1.5 percent. That means that some corporations — among them, Boeing — are in fact making money through the tax system as it is currently operating.

Even apart from its tax bill sleights of hand, corporate America is the beneficiary of federal spending that amounts to a gratuitous handout. While none of us working folk pay negative tax rates, the state has, for decades, channeled our greenbacks to favored Big Business players.

It’s no exaggeration at all to single out corporate welfare as the defining feature of the American political system, to see the federal government itself as just a slimy culvert for giveaways to the rich. In the United States, though, champions of our system of “free enterprise” keep themselves perpetually up in arms only at “illegals” and the inner city poor “getting something for nothing.”

The American Right is quick to denounce cradle-to-grave welfare statism, carping that people on public assistance ought to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” But if we really, sincerely oppose people living off of the hard work of others, then perhaps it is time we undertook an honest inquiry into who benefits most from the welfare state.

As Stephen Slivinski observes, companies like “Boeing, Xerox, IBM, Motorola, Dow Chemical, General Electric, and others have received millions in taxpayer-funded benefits through programs like the Advanced Technology Program and the Export-Import Bank.”

Through policies ranging from direct subsidies and grants for research and development to the Foreign Military Financing Program, the federal government is a goose laying golden eggs for the rich. Although none of these policies are properly part of a free market, it’s understandable that conscientious, left-leaning Americans look understand “free market” to mean “field day for moneyed bigwigs.” Since all we ever hear from the corporate establishment are claims that we presently enjoy a free market system, such confusion is a matter of course.

Contrary to the scores of corporate press releases dominating the media, however, freedom and competition don’t translate to funneling billions of dollars from struggling taxpayers to suits at the largest companies in the world. Whatever anyone thinks of the free market in theory, the statist “public/private partnerships” we have today just aren’t it.

Market anarchists — who regard free markets as a means of liberating working people from corporate mastery — have no interest in identifying with today’s collusive economic framework. As philosopher Roderick Long explains, market anarchists regard the present economy as one in which “corporatism [is] systematic and all-pervasive” rather than “mere friction in an essentially free-market mechanism.”

The state provides an exceedingly valuable service to the rich. Unlike ordinary working people, however, who have to pay for the “services” that the state ostensibly provides us, Big Business just has to kick back and guzzle down our dollars. Comparing public assistance for the poor with corporate welfare, do we really have to wonder whom the state intends to serve?

A market anarchist society, free of the state’s upward redistribution, would break the elite’s coercive monopolization of societal wealth. Absent the state, there are plenty of seats at the table of economic plenitude. Today, on the other hand, those seats are stolen as footrests for the idle rich.

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The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory