The opposition of yours truly to a phenomenon variously described as 'economic centralization', 'globalization', 'managerial capitalism', and 'concentration' is perhaps a curiousity, a seemingly bizarre and incongruous outlier relative to the mainstream of conservative thought. At a minimum, this is the impression I often receive.
However, suppose I were to reformulate the questions posed by our own Steve Burton in a comment in an earlier thread.
In what way is "economic centralization in corporate hands" particularly "problematic?"
I would ask, "In what way is political centralization in bureaucratic hands particularly problematic?"
Instead of qualifying the question by stating that:
I'm not saying it isn't - and I'm certainly not saying that economic centralization *qua* economic centralization is a *good* thing.
I would state, "I'm not saying that political centralization isn't - and I'm certainly not saying that political centralization qua political centralization is a good thing.
Finally, instead of wondering whether anyone advocated economic centralization for its own sake, asking
Is there anybody who *does* say that?
Or are there people whose announced views are merely a "cover" for some such position?
I would wonder aloud whether anyone advocated political centralization for its own sake, asking, "Is there anyone who does advocate this? Or are there people whose public views are merely a cover for some such position?"
Now, my object in this elementary exercise in rephrasing is serious, and not wry or sardonic in the slightest measure. For there is a tendency, among many conservatives in America, to bifurcate the questions of political and economic centralization, as though the former is inherently suspect, while the latter may be beneficent or indifferent according to circumstances. Political centralization, the removal of certain questions, and of fundamental responsibilities, from lower orders of governance, and their transfer to higher levels, is considered suspect for several interconnected reasons. Political centralization is rightly considered undesirable, even positively pernicious, because it entails a disconnection of the centers of authority from the specific communities, and their circumstances, interests, and goods, with respect to which decisions should be made. The particularity of localities is subjected to the procrustean tendencies of bureaucracy, which requires standardization and uniformity. Political centralization is also considered somewhat threatening, inasmuch as the very distance between authority, or power, and the sites of its exercise increases the likelihood of its abuse. With distance comes a diminution of actual responsibility, so that indifference, callousness, or even outright malignity become more probable. Ultimately, however, these privations or evils are merely the natural consequences of violations of subsidiarity, the principal injustice of which violations is that they deprive communities of the substantive goods that are only possible when they are responsible for their own affairs and good.
Analogous judgments could be made concerning economic centralization, the concentration of productive assets in ever larger aggregations and in the hands of fewer agents. Hence, the conclusion that such concentration, and the policies that facilitate it, must be problematic.
Wealth and power are infinitely and indefinitely fungible and convertible, and no observer of the political scene could be faulted for imagining that wealth is a means of acquiring power, and power a means of acquiring wealth. Were it not so, abominations such as an immigration policy favoured by only a small fraction of the population - that fraction comprised of ethnic activists and business interests, with a small contingent of ideologues thrown in for comedic relief - would be inconceivable, absurd features of a world in which movements arise without discernible causes. Corporatist finagling of regulation and legislation, of the sort described by Kevin Jones, in a comment upon Tim Carney's book, The Big Ripoff, would be virtually inexplicable. Without belabouring the point further, many features of our political economy, features which even some 'economic conservatives' and libertarians can acknowledge, would be incomprehensible were it not the case that wealth and political power are, ahem, mutually contextualizing, currencies exchanged for one another as for commodities.
It is to be doubted that anyone ever pursues, or ever has pursued, either wealth or power purely for its own sake; neither is necessarily pursued for the sake of the other, and the Twentieth Century affords an abundance of illustrations of power pursued for the sake of some ideological object, rather than material comfort. Wealth and power are virtually always instrumental, then. They are problematic, therefore, to the extent that their objects increase the distance between the locus of effective power and the site of its exercise. This distance begets a divergence of substantive interests, and the resultant multiplication of factions is especially injurious to a republic, which depends upon a civic patriotism capable of subordinating private goods to a common, public good. Worse still, such factionalism leads to conflations of private, factional interests with the common good, and with the national interest itself - a republican dysfunction amply evidenced in our own time.
Conservative ambivalence or indifference toward concentrations of economic power apparently owes to a residual or tacit Lockeanism, according to which the legitimacy of political authority derives from consent, a consent extended to a government which exercises delimited powers on behalf of the acquisitive, property-owning and pursuing, rights-bearing, and preference-satisfying individual. Such rights are inherently claims against the smaller community, invocations of a certain degree of centralization towards the end of effectively negating the legitimate claims of the community upon the agent. Rights language, as is its wont, obscures more than it clarifies here, as even on its own terms, it is difficult to perceive how an individual could possess a claim right, or even a weaker non-interference right, as against the community, to perform actions deleterious to the community. Still less is it evident that an individual is entitled to appeal to a higher authority against the authority closest to him and his community, when the judgments of the latter are adverse to his wishes - but this is the legacy of political modernism, or liberalism. Nevertheless, popular conservatism seems to presuppose this political architecture, at least with respect to economic affairs, an incongruity often justified by reference to the manifest horrors engendered by centralist, totalitarian regimes in the Twentieth Century: since the political opponents of private economic concentration have often demonstrated themselves sanguinary and sadistic, or perhaps - in the case of the dirigiste regimes of Europe - petty, overbearing, and sclerotic, ought we not overlook the downsides of economic concentration, perhaps even coming to affirm it as a good if it is private, and may be portrayed as liberating us from the state?
I confess myself baffled by the bafflement of many conservatives at the criticism of economic policies that abet concentration. To be certain, no one really pursues such an end for itself; and instead of obfuscating with talk of rights, or dissembling myths of inevitability (of progress, or globalization, or whatever), we could debate the substantive value of specific acts and policies. But the existence of a great(er) evil and injustice does not obviate the existence of a lesser one; they imply, and are convertible with, one another. One would think that American conservatives would recognize the example of the European Union as dispositive on this account; but the lesson absorbed seems to be the familiar one of "bureaucracy, bad", rather than the more pertinent one of economic integration - a form of concentration - engendering political integration.
One would be mistaken to think so. I'm baffled.