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Freedom: A Case Study
Hi Ch Elijah Sadaphal! And thank you for the question: "Of what value is freedom if it empowers you to harm others?
In 1986, a Japanese firm known as the Mitsui Corporation purchased the Exxon building in Manhattan for $610 million dollars. This was $250 million more than the asking price. The reason that Mitsui spectacularly overpaid in such cosmic fashion was because the firm's president wanted to get into the Guinness Book of World Records (1).
We can predict the "harm" this transaction is likely to do. It is likely to drive real estate prices up all over Manhattan. I would imagine that both business and residential property would be affected. One can imagine that middle and working class families would face the peril of being "priced out" of their homes and apartment --- to be replaced by families that can afford the new inflated prices.
This is how gentrification happens, is it not?
Now then, isn't this a simple case of a corporation having the "freedom" to spend its money in any way its sees fit?
Question: Can a corporation truly have freedom?
Answer: American law, since 1886, accepts corporations as legal persons entitled to the protections of the Bill of Rights (2).
Rights are not the same as freedoms. But let's assume that a corporation, a "legal person" has the freedom to spend its money any way it sees fit.
For our purposes, then, the question is: Of what value is a corporation's freedom if it empowers the corporation to harm others?
When we talk of corporations, we are really talking about the leadership of corporations. We are talking about that apparatus known as the board of directors.
The modified question takes this form: Of what value is a corporate board of director's freedom if it empowers them to harm others?
Let's slow down a little bit and address ourselves to the question as originally asked. The question, as originally asked by CH Elijah Sadaphal is: "Of what value is freedom if it empowers you to harm others?"
Let's start like this: What is the value, to the leadership of the Mitsui corporation, of being perfectly "free" to spend the corporation's, presumably, discretionary funds in so profligate a manner?
Answer: It allowed the leadership of the corporation to gain the prominence they were seeking. They got into the Guinness Book of World Records by paying the highest price for commercial real estate.
What other value does the corporation leadership's exercise of this "freedom" have?
Answer: It raises real estate prices or "values" for other owners of real estate such as...
- Other owners of commercial real estate and their families in the area, whose prospects for profit have increased significantly, as they can charge much higher prices than they may have originally intended for the sale of their commercial property.
- Owners of homes in the area and their families, who will be able to ask much higher prices for their residences, when it comes time to sell.
- The public school district in the area ought to be a huge beneficiary. Since public schools are funded from property tax revenue in the United States of America, the rising home prices will likely attract the kind of people that can afford to pay them; and these families' increased property taxes will send more revenue to the public school district; and that means the schools will be in an even better position to serve the students... and on and on and on. The likely high-end families that these students go on to produce will be, at least, indirect beneficiaries.
- The owners of apartment buildings in the area and their families, (not bound by "rent control") will benefit because they will likely be able to charge higher rents for their apartments, if not convert their apartment houses altogether into inherently more expensive condominiums.
So far the answer to the question (Of what value is the Mitsui corporation's leadership's "freedom" to spend money so profligately?) is: a positive value for other owners of commercial real estate in the area and their families; owners of homes in the area and their families; the public school district since funding is done through property taxes in America; and the owners of apartment buildings in the area and their families.
There are a group of people for whom this "freedom" does not provide a positive value: renters, who will not be able to pay the raised rents, much less the prices for condominium living. They will have to move out of the neighborhood; and they will not be able to send their children to the public schools which promise to rise in quality, with the increased funding they are about to receive, as wealthier people move into the neighborhood, "gentrifying" it, as it were.
Now we can set the problem up properly according to CH Elijah Sadaphal's parameters.
The Question: Of what value is the "freedom" of the leadership of the Mitsui corporation to spend money so profligately, in spectacularly overpaying for Manhattan real estate for the purpose of getting into the Guinness Book of World Records ---------- as it provides a real boon for: other owners of commercial real estate in the area and their families; owners of homes in the area and their families; the public school district; and owners of apartment buildings in the area, not bound by "rent control," and their families------------if said "freedom" allows the Mitsui corporation leadership's profligacy to harm renters????????
Here's one way to look at the problem: Add up the interests on both sides of the ledger, as it were.
Add up the other owners of commercial real estate in the area and their families; homeowners in the area and their families; the public school district and its employees (all likely to get pay raises) and their families; the owners of apartment buildings, not bound by rent control, and their families; and the present renters who can afford the increased rents, and their families.
Then set this number of people against the number of people in the families who must move away because they cannot afford the increased rents.
A far greater number of people are likely represented by the former category than the latter.
Are you following me?
Since the beneficiaries of this completely unimpeded "freedom" seem to outnumber those on the short end of the stick----we might call the outcome a variation of the principle of majority-rule (economic) democracy.
Another way to see this, of course, is as the tyranny of the mob. In the United States of America we cannot drown all people with freckles in the Atlantic Ocean, even if eighty percent of the electorate votes that this should be so. Actually, in the interest of justice such a vote can never be allowed.
The World War Two-era Nazi holocaust of the Jews can be looked at this way, since Hitler and his party were voted into power!
But perhaps that's not fair. Perhaps the German electorate, at the time, had no way of knowing Hitler would go to such extremes.
And perhaps there was no way of knowing that when we elected the Fox as Guardian of the Henhouse, that he would actually eat the chickens-----even if blood was dripping from his fangs and feathers were sticking out of his mouth, as he took his oath of office ("I do solemnly swear to protect the chickens from all enemies, foreign and domestic...").
The scene from Pulp Fiction
Remember the scene from the Quentin Tarantino movie, Pulp Fiction, when enforcers, Vincent and Jules (John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson, respectively) were talking about what happened to Antoine Rockamura aka "Tony Rocky Horror"?
The story was that he gave a foot massage to the wife of Jules' and Vincent's boss, L.A. gangster kingpin, Marcellus Wallace----on or shortly after their wedding day.
Jules told Vincent that Marcellus got so upset when he learned this, that he "sent a couple a cats over to his place" and threw Antoine out of a four-story window. There was a glass greenhouse down there and the condemned man "fell through that."
Tony Rocky Horror developed something of a "speech impediment" after that.
Jules' position was that their boss's reaction had been excessive, given the nature of the "crime," as it were.
Vincent agreed that the incident had been a darn shame. But on the other hand, Antoine had to expect a reaction. He had put his hands on Marcellus Wallace's new bride in a familiar way. It was not reasonable to expect the gangster kingpin to "have a sense of humor" about it.
Here's the thing: If you expect a reaction, you have to be prepared for anything. That is because Marcellus Wallace is a killer gangster who is literally capable of anything. It is as simple as that. Marcellus Wallace is not like other, law-abiding men; he is a gangster.
As a gangster, you cannot rely on proportionate response from a fellow like that.
To return to our problem, the unimpeded "freedom" of the leadership of the Mitsui corporation, appears, to me, to fall under the category of "tyranny of the mob," the inappropriate application of "democracy," to the province of human rights, which should be beyond the cyclical discretion of the populace.
Does that make sense?
This kind of "freedom," then, is bad for justice. Freedom unrestrained by justice has no moral value.
Thank you for reading!
1. Chancellor, Edward. Devil Take The Hindmost: A History of Financial Speculation. Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1999. 286
2. Korten, David C. When Corporations Rule the World. Berrett-Koehler & Kumarian Press, 1995. (page number pending)