The Cure for Corporate Corruption - American Invidualism

August 4, 2002

by Bruce Walker

We conservatives have trouble mustering sympathy for giant corporations. While we champion liberty, most corporate executives yearn to look chic and to gain wealth by fair means or foul.

During the Cold War, these executives scrambled to do business with Moscow, while American sons died fighting communism.

The vast majority of people who work for corporations - executives included - are decent, devout and patriotic Americans, as dismayed by the state of modern culture or the dangers of communism or terrorism as anyone else.

Perhaps, though, conservatives should begin to look closely at the impact of gigantic corporations whose board members and executives graduated from colleges that preached no moral values. What has been the fundamental problem with the corporate scandals which have unfolded in the last year? The money they wasted was Other Peoples Money, and the same sickness that infects government programs, university classes, and nonprofit organizations also affects huge corporations. Absent a strong moral sense, using Other Peoples Money is a great temptation.

Politicians and government officials suffer from the same malaise, and competition does help keep corporate indolence less dangerous than government sloth. But consider how sometimes this does not matter: Hollywood could produce movies that would be blockbusters, but these movies would also be "politically incorrect" and so Hollywood ignores the desires of consumers and seeks the adulation of their pals in Beverly Hills.

Can anything be done? Yes. America was founded upon principles summed up well by Theodore Roosevelt as "Rugged Individualism." Corporations, bureaucracies, nonprofit organizations and universities are not individuals. They are structures which separate people from the consequences of their personal actions. Our tax system and our legal system encourage big businesses to be corporations and not individual proprietorships. Why favor individual businessmen over corporations?

Why not reduce the tax rate on individuals whose income is derived from work and business activity to a flat rate lower than the personal income tax rate from all income - say, a flat ten percent? Why not allow individuals to do more than just form personal corporations, but instead to form individual proprietorships with limited liability? Why not let individual proprietorships, who have one person accountable for everything, jump through fewer regulatory hoops than corporations filled with faceless functionaries?

Suddenly there are no stock scandals (no one owns stock) and no corrupt boards of directors (no board of directors at all). There is a single owner, and the buck stops there. The business, like an architect’s building or a composer’s symphony, is his creation.

The result is not just better business ethics, but also a return to the beauty of creation. Is there any tale in American business more tragic than what happened to family entertainment when Walt Disney died? This great genius of wholesome, delightful and creative entertainment then went corporate in a spiritual sense, and the individual genius that was Walt Disney became the ghastly freak show that is Disney, Inc.

Those men who have created, invented, and transformed American life are called "businessmen" but they were actually artists. These men hungered for the sheer joy of creation, and not for more pots of money. Once, when corporations were smaller and rules less burdensome, a great man could simply overwhelm the formal structure of the corporation and forge on with his life’s work. The rash of corporate scandals suggests that time may have passed.

Why not pass address "corporate" scandals by liberating again the individual? What is the real merit in ordinary people like you and me "investing" in something that we did not create and do not understand? Do not outlaw or punish this sort of investment, but do realize that the greatest capital in any enterprise is the grit, vision and heart of a single individual.

The problem is not big business that allows people to grow rich doing good work. The problem is legal and tax system that discourages the individual geniuses and crunches creative energy into rigid organizations, filled with functionaries whose duty - like the duty of every government bureaucrat - is to always report success.

The federal government recognized in supporting home ownership that there is an intangible and great goodness in having families, and not collectives, own a house and yard. The same is true for business. The answer to business run by countless committees and nameless bureaucrats? Remove every possible obstacle from the single person who will create for the sheer delight of creation. Our nation is an idea, and that idea is individual - not corporate - freedom. We should return to that idea again.


Bruce Walker has been a dyed in the wool conservative since, as a sixth grader, he campaigned door to door for Barry Goldwater. Bruce has had almost two hundred published articles have appeared in the Oklahoma Bar Journal, Law & Order, Legal Secretary Today, The Single Parent, Enter Stage Right, Citizen's View, The American Partisan, Port of Call, and several other professional and political periodicals.

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For more of Bruce's articles, visit his archives.

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