Column on Am I A Corporate Shill?

Am I A Corporate Shill?

Tibor R. Machan

It has always been my view that corporations are groups of people united for various purposes, often to benefit from a business venture guided by competent management. Initially I worried little about the legal details, nor even about the legal history. A bunch of people incorporate or form a company to achieve certain perfectly acceptable, even admirable goals. Sometimes this can be done via a partnership, sometimes by incorporating, sometimes for profit, sometimes not.

Then I started to get involved in political philosophy and found that there is a whole lot of hostility toward these outfits, mainly from Leftists but also from some so called left-libertarians. I am not sure why from the latter. I figured why from the former, though, namely because promoting one’s economic prosperity either alone or in the company of a large number of others had to amount to ugly greed. And that I found to be way off course, just the sort of nonsense that they tried drumming into me in my native Hungary back in the lovely days of Stalinism.

These days, for example, if you are not falling in line with the anthropogenic global warming message, it is very likely that you will be labeled by the true believers a shill for corporations. Sure enough, a few days ago I sent some numbers and analyses to someone I know who is an AGW champion because I get along with him reasonably well (although we aren’t friends, merely pals, perhaps) and I always hold out hope that people will consider arguments that go against their beliefs and support mine.

I received an email from this bloke dismissing what I sent to him as the production of corporate shills, specifically people funded by the Koch brothers, Charles and David. The Koch brothers are indeed wealthy from doing very solid business in oil-refinement, I think, but I am not sure. I know both of them just a tad, enough to know that they are honestly convinced of whatever they claim to believe and don’t put the cart before the horse by manufacturing evidence, argument and research so as to buttress their pet notions or personal or economic interests. As with me, so with them, if I recall right, the convictions in the sphere of political economy came way before the chance to make some money from working in support of them. Indeed, I became a libertarian and a defender of the free market system of economics, first and then I did make a few bucks from speaking at some conferences, publishing, etc. While I certainly wish I could have made much more money from all this, I didn’t and the idea of holding some belief about something not because I thought it reasonable and true but because it supported some prejudice of mine would be so self-debasing that I could not do it.

Nonetheless the pal of mine had no trouble implicating me in selling my soul to corporate interests. Just how does he know this? And how does he know that the Koch brothers do not sincerely believe in libertarianism but support it merely because they see economic benefit from it?

Now it is true that even some libertarian economists are reductionists and hold that everything someone does comes from the belief that it will promote one’s economic advantages. On this score Marxists and some free market theorists see eye to eye. But whatever the source of the idea, it is bunk. Most of us haven’t much of a clue about whether holding certain beliefs will advance our prosperity. We may come to accept that there is more hope for us being libertarians than being communitarians or Marxists but no one can be sure. In my own profession, as a university educator, I am pretty sure in retrospect that I would have made out much better financially and in terms of holding a prominent post had I never found libertarianism convincing, had I joined the bulk of academic political philosophers who tend to be located on the Left.

I suppose when you have no arguments it is then tempting to impugn your adversary’s integrity. It’s a coward’s escape, I believe.

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