Who do you trust?

I was talking with a friend of mine and somehow Microsoft became a topic of conversation. We talked about the different aspects of life that Microsoft seemed to be involving itself with: PCs, PDAs, entertainment devices, secure internet commerce, … and the list goes on. The talk took a head first dive into a deep and fertile pool of conversation when I made the comment: “It worries me that any one company could come to control or influence so much.” Playing the devil’s advocate, my partner in conversation said something about the government; to which I replied: “I would trust my government before I would trust a private company.” Let the fireworks begin!

I won’t bore you with the ups and downs of the conversation; I’ll just pick up where the conversation left off – with a swirl of thoughts and ideas seeking a coherent pattern in my mind. You may read these entries and think to yourself, “how is this any different than any other day?” Be nice.

So who would you trust. Me, I figure trust is inversely proportional to the power that an entity holds over me; with consideration given to past performance. The way I see it, neither the government nor private industry shines in the past performance department. Our government has a long history missteps and wrong doing. From slavery, destruction of the natives, segregation, and moving right on to the internment of our own citizens (those of Japanese ancestry during WWII); our government’s conduct has been far from perfect. Private industry has nearly as shameful a past in this country. Consider the exploitation of children in the work force from the 1800’s through the early 1900’s, pollution levels that made the air hard to breath and water dangerous to swim in, and business practices that are good for shareholders but tend to be a net loss for everyone else (who “sells for less”?). So that leaves us with power. On that score, there is no question. Our government has much more power to shape our lives than any company today. But with the government there is a catch: elections. Government can adversely effect some of us, but if it stirs up too many of us then the folks running the government usually either see the error of their ways or they find a new line of work after the next election cycle. The more I think about it, the more I feel better about the balance of power between “we the people” and the government. So what about corporate America? There’s a built in control in most cases there too: piss us off and we stop sending our money their way. It’s the exception to this rule that troubles me: the monopoly.

If a company or a group of companies provide a product or a service for which there is no viable alternative and is necessary to maintain a standard of living that we are all accustomed to – then we’ve got problems. You would think that government is then in a situation to balance the power. But what happens when the government is beholden to the monopoly? What if the economy needs the monopoly, and those in government need a good economy to keep their own power? This is what I’m afraid of. This is why I trust a big corporation less than the government.