A common objection to a libertarian society is the “without the government corporations would rule the planet” argument. The theory goes something like this: having few or no laws would give business free reign to run roughshod over our rights since the people have no recourse if they are violated. By extension the idea of limited (let alone no) government is quickly dismissed as a utopian illusion thought up by naïve dreamers who think corporations are run solely by selfless do-gooders.
Fortunately those that have taken a more than slight interest in the message of liberty know better. The majority of libertarians are not corporate apologists but rather critical thinkers who understand that while no system is perfect, centralizing power into the hands of a relative few is least likely to genuinely protect people’s rights. Besides, while government can – and routinely does – secure your compliance with the threat of “legitimate” violence, a business that fails to live up to its promises can either step up its game or watch while its customers take their business to a competitor.
Libertarian theory basically holds that built-in market mechanisms reward good business practices and penalize bad ones, thereby removing any need for government intervention. After all, a free market has no barriers to entry that would stop an entrepreneur from filling the void left by competitors. In many cases however, one does not need to go that far at all. Since reputation is key to the survival of any business the free flow of information protects customers from mistreatment. In this information age that has become truer than ever.
Here in Brazil a good example is a website and mobile application called ReclameAqui (“complain here”). Dissatisfied customers use such websites to post their grievances about a product, service or poor customer service and businesses can respond promptly on the same platform. While there are many ways for a customer to express his or her discontent ReclameAqui has gained particular popularity, enabling people to post complaints in a matter of mere minutes with a few clicks.
The specific information required filters out many false complaints and any that might slip through can be pointed out by businesses in their response on the website. Legitimate complaints often result in the customer receiving a call from a customer service representative who takes care of things over the phone. New businesses are constantly listed on the site as requested by users. Other free features include a listing of the overall best companies, daily, weekly, and monthly rankings, and a tool to compare two or more firms – all based on customer feedback.
The website is full of success stories written by happy ReclameAqui users and serves as a great resource for consumers at any and every stage of the purchasing process including post-purchase. A friend who bought an e-reader six months ago used the site to see if anyone else had experienced the problem she was dealing with. When she found out the bookstore answered positively to almost all issues she listed hers and was promptly invited to pick up a new one in the store.
The claim that the market regulates itself is not just wishful thinking on the part of libertarians. Nor does it say that all businesses are run by morally upstanding people or that every single employee always puts the customer first. But examples like these show that the consumer can bring forces to bear that a business ignores only at its own peril. And so long as the strong arm of government does not impede or block competition, success in business depends on staying in the good graces of the consumer.