2Lords of the Earth

THE PRINCIPLE OF PRIVILEGE

Stockholders claim wealth they do little to create,much as nobles claimed privilege they did not earn.

What is at work in the corporate worldview is the principle of privilege. To the modern ear this is a word with an inescapable tone of belligerence—like a twelve-year-old’s schoolyard taunt (“What makes you so privileged?”). But in an earlier age, it carried no such overtones. It represented what was a fact of life: some people had privileges, or legal rights, which others lacked. The word stems from the roots privus, meaning private, and lex, law, for in its antique sense it meant precisely that: a private law, a law that benefited (or harmed) one individual or group.

If equality under the law ...

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