I often find myself annoyed by left-wing (and occassionally right-wing) anti-business screeds that decry corporations, big business, etc. I don't find anything inherently troubling about corporate form or business size, and I have no problem with profit-motivated actors (individual or corporate), so long as they play fair. Mindless attacks on the business community have the unfortunate effect of undermining perceived validity of more targeted, thoughtful concerns through a guilt-by-association phenomenon.
But business and consumer interests often diverge. Now, it should hardly be controversial that there is an unequal playing field between businesses and consumers. Generally, businesses know more about their products than consumers and have more bargaining power than consumers. (Yes, there are information assymetries running the opposite way, which is a particularly salient problem for credit and insurance products.) For many businesses, it is important to maintain this assymetry of information and bargaining power, as there's profit in it.
In theory, and I emphasize in theory, competition should eliminate many of the problems these assymetries create for consumers, but there's no such thing as a perfect, complete market, just varying degrees of market imperfection, so competition alone cannot be relied upon to solve everything. What, if anything else, should be done is an open question, but when one looks at a range of seemingly unconnected recent public policy issues, a troubling common theme emerges.
Instead of a laboratory of experiements to help level the b2c playing field, we see a different trend emerging: a distinct anti-consumer agenda that aims to reduce consumer bargaining power and information. Consider the common theme that runs through the following issues:
- AT&T v. Concepcion (waiver of class actions in arbitrations)
- Attempts to bust up public employee unions (and attacks on unions in general, such as the failure of Card Check legislation)
- Citizens United (corporate speech rights)
- Attempts to retain the current corrupt swipe fee system (failure of antitrust)
- Attacks on public health insurance (prohibition on Medicare bargaining over prescription drug prices and the death of the public option)
- Attempts to first kill off and now to maim the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau