|My main goal on this blog is to put my political beliefs into words on a screen. I hope this organization process will help me refine my thoughts, clarify my arguments and expand my knowledge. I'll start with the basics before moving onto the specifics.|
Today, an introduction is in order. What is "corporate evil" and why do we need to fight it?
Corporations have chartered Earth on a course for global destruction due to their shameless exploitation of the environment. Further, huge corporations may destroy the American economy by undermining the very free market that Corporate Republicans allegedly love. Without serious action by the public, one or both of these potential disasters lies in humanity's future.
I. RUINING THE ECONOMY BY CORPORATE CONSOLIDATION
"The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than the democratic state itself. That in its essence is fascism: ownership of the government by an individual, by a group or any controlling private power." - Franklin Delano Roosevelt
In 1886, the Supreme Court in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad 118 U.S. 394, established that the 14th amendment of the Constitution meant that corporations should be treated as individuals in the eyes of the law. (The decision as written by Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite doesn't say this, and that is only in a footnote, which is not precedent. Nevertheless, subsequent court decisions treated Southern Pacific Railroad as establishing that corporations are individuals.) Corporations have nearly all of the rights as other humans. This is a horrific decision that is the result of some of the most "activist" judges who ever lived. The benefits are small. Treating corporations as individuals is efficient in many ways. It allows the entity to be a party to a lawsuit which often makes a lot of sense. There's an immoral benefit to all this as well. It creates a liability shield that protects the individual officers from being sued for corporate wrongdoing. While this may be good in some instances, it eliminates justice in other instances. Corporations, by their very nature, cannot serve jail time for criminal offenses. What if a crime is committed? Shouldn't executives who conspired to commit this crime be subject to the laws of the United States? As is, it is very difficult to "pierce the corporate veil" and attack officers in the corporation. As a result, the corporate entity creates an "individual" not subject to all the punitive laws of the United States while subject to all the privileges of those laws. Still, the ability to have a corporate liability shield is considered a "benefit" to those making money from corporations.
The harms of treating corporations as individuals are huge, however. Unlike humans, corporations lack basic human emotions that keep our powers within control. Corporations have no compassion, sympathy and caution. This absence of morality is why IBM helped the Nazis design specialized computer systems to track concentration camp victims. This absence of morality is also why Bechtel feels free to charge impoverished citizens 25% of their income for drinking water. Corporations only exhibit morals in 2 ways and even then they are very limited are tied in with the bottom line: 1) they don't want to destroy future sources of income and 2) they don't want to turn off customers through evil business practices. As for destroying future sources of income, corporations only fear this when the loss of the resource is immediate. Take oil, for instance. Despite the knowledge that we will run out of it very soon, no corporation is suggesting that we limit production, conserve or take steps to minimize oil usage. Similarly, corporations will rarely refuse profit because it might turn off customers. Usually the increased profit will always pass a cost-benefit test as opposed to lost profits from turned off customers. Despite its limits, it is useful to note that corporations do exhibit a very limited form of morality, albeit related only to their "best interests".
Joel Bakan, a University of British Columbia Law Professor and producer of the film "The Corporation", makes the case that if corporations are individuals, then that individual is a clinical psychopath according to the World Health Organization's mental health checklist. Corporations 1) have a callous unconcern for feelings of others, because profit-accumulation is their sole objective; 2) they have an incapacity to maintain enduring relationships; 3) reckless disregard for the safety of others, as demonstrated by their production of dangerous products if they meet a cost-benefit analysis and the constant destruction of the environment without any accounting of the costs of doing so, 4) repeated lying, as in the case of Enron, Arthur Andersen and many other large corporations, 5) inability to experience guilt and 6) failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behavior, evidenced by corporations willingness to flagrantly violate the law as long as it meets a cost-benefit test. It may seem obvious, in a sense, that a test such as this would classify a corporation as a psychopath -- after all, these are mindless legal fictions that exist only to make profit. But since the law treats corporations as individuals, we need to realize that we have let loose psychopaths with huge amounts of money and power to do anything they want across the world as long as they make profit. There is nothing to stop corporations from growing forever and ultimately stifling the innovation that capitalism is supposed to guarantee. Only a handful of corporations control the vast majority of the world's wealth. Given the inherent economic benefits to the corporation from mergers and acquisitions, we can expect further corporate consolidation. The danger is that diminishing number of competitive businesses will end up destroying the American economy in much the same way that state run businesses destroyed the USSR's economy. Without competition, the free market fails.
America needs business to thrive. Without economic incentives to invent and create, innovation is stifled. Why create a new kind of computer when the old one works just fine? Why spend millions on a new idea when there is no possibility of recovering that money? Pure socialism is doomed to fail because invisible market forces that accurately predict supply and demand are replaced by fallible, human created, government programs. Capitalism should be quite a bit more sustainable than socialism and other economic systems that rely on the whims and faults of human beings to maintain the system. Capitalism leaves gaps, however, that must be filled by government. In a future post I'll discuss ways to make capitalism more equitable for the poor, but for today let's just remember that we want to reform business, not destroy it.
The law, however, does not do much to mitigate corporate power. Southern Pacific Railroad is just one way the law allows corporations to pass on the costs to the environment and society from corporate profit-accumulation directly to the citizens and to future generations. Another problem with US is the "best interests principle" that requires corporate employees to do what is in the best interests of the corporation regardless of any harmful effects to others. This makes sense from some perspectives. We don't want corporate employees using insider techniques to make themselves rich at the expense of their employers. Further, the "best interests principle" mirrors the human survival instinct that is required for any entity to live. However, our survival instinct is mitigated by other human considerations. We need to eat, but we won't murder a child for a piece of bread. But if it is in the corporation's "best interests" to use child labor because it is cheap, they will do so even though small children are being exploited and tortured. The law needs to fill in the gaps and act as the corporation conscience. The law needs to prevent corporations from acting in the corporation's "best interests" at the expense of society's best interests.
The reality is that there are tons of costs of corporate power. One is the environment, which I will discuss shortly; other costs of corporations that do not get factored into their almighty "bottom line" are: cruel treatment of workers, unhealthy and inhumane methods of farming animals, anti-union activities and the creation of dangerous new products. These costs should be part of the corporation's bottom line because someone will have to pay for them. It is fundamentally unfair that society should pay these costs. As taxpayers, we pay many of them today. We are the ones exploited by their unfair labor practices. We are the ones getting asthma from pollution. We are the ones getting sicker by unhealthy corporatized food. But most of these costs aren't being felt by anyone today but are rather being levied as a tax upon future generations.
II. GLOBAL WARMING
George W. Bush is the most pro-tax President in the history of the United States. The amount of increased pollution from his weakened environmental regulations and subsidies to corporate polluters is likely one of the highest figures ever attributable to a President. I am not capable of calculating this figure but given the sheer amount of anti-environmental legislation ("Healthy Forests", "Clear Skies", the pro-pollution energy bill), the increased world population and high level of scientific capacity, one would imagine that the costs of the environment have been greater under President Bush than any other President. These costs have been used to line the pockets of Bush's corporate donors. Meanwhile, our grandchildren and our children's grandchildren will be the ones to repay the tax. In their lifetimes they will see horrific environmental devastation that was rooted in the policies of the Corporate Republicans. This is a tax levied on future generations and we need to call out George W. Bush and his cronies as advocates of taxation without representation -- because our grandchildren are not yet born to vote against clean air in the year 2055 so that Shell Oil can make some extra profits in the 4th quarter of 2005.
Global warming is a real problem according to every scientist in the world not currently receiving a stipend from corporations, Corporate Republicans or other conservative political parties across the globe. We already see the effects today. The polar ice caps have already begun their slow melt. Glaciers all across the world are melting at a rate never before seen. The air is getting dirty and children are getting asthma more frequently. Oceans too are being heavily polluted by carbon dioxide emissions, threatening aquatic diversity. Eventually the melting of the polar ice caps will result in a massive disaster that will kill millions and leave large chunks of the Earth underwater. The causes of global warming are multiple, but all of the causes stem from acts by corporations acting only in their "best interests".
Corporations deserve the bulk of the blame for global warming. Sure, we all drive gas guzzling SUVs and use plastic bags like they will never stop coming, but that's not really our fault. Corporations are the ones hawking these unsafe products on us because the cleaner alternative is also somewhat more expensive to them. Corporations don't account for costs to society in their ledger book, just costs to themselves. So while a plastic bag may have a total cost of $1 -- $0.01 to the corporation for manufacture and $0.99 to the environment due to the fact that the plastic bag wasted gas and will never biodegrade -- the corporation's ledger just lists the cost of the bag as "$0.01". I'm sure most of you prefer the nice paper bags with handles to plastic ones (or like them equally), but stores mostly don't even offer paper anymore and if they do, the bags are handle-less so as to keep the corporate cost low and discourage paper bag use.
Corporations are responsible for the products that they put on the market. Consumers too have a duty to buy cleaner products when available, but corporations game the system to provide us with few affordable alternatives. Hybrid cars is a great example. People love hybrids. They sell so strong that some used Prius models INCREASE in price. You need to get on a waiting list to buy a hybrid. It's obvious to anyone with a pulse that, for some odd reason, demand continues to be higher than the supply after over 5 years of manufacture. Clearly there is a secret deal somewhere that the oil companies pay the car companies not to heavily produce hybrids. Otherwise the laws of supply and demand would continue to be followed as they are in every other segment of our economy. If hybrids were mass-produced, they would be cheaper as well and even more consumers would buy hybrids. Of course, that would result in the loss of huge profits to the oil industry. As a corporate entity, oil companies would be nuts not to pay off the car manufacturers to keep hybrid cars in abeyance. President Bush's insistence that hydrogen fuel cells, not hybrids, are the future is part of an effort to keep people from buying hybrids. Even though fuel cells may be the future, the reality is that we need to clean up the environment NOW and hybrids are available NOW. His token mention of support for hydrogen fuel cells without the funding to back it up is just part of the elaborate Corporate Republican deception to be seen as advocating something, in the case the environment, without actually doing it.
The corporate lifestyle in a unsustainable one. By continuingly failing to account for the costs to the environment, we are running up a bill that will eventually be too high to be paid. We are taking resources out of the Earth at a pace that is unsustainable. Sustainability needs to be a second corporate goal in addition to mere profit motive. The government is going to have to be the ones the force this goal upon corporations. Corporations will not become environmentally friendly voluntarily. It simply is not in their best interests because, as is, they don't pay the costs of their pollution -- we do. We need to shift the burden of pollution costs onto the corporate polluters themselves. Doing so will make corporations eager to be environmentally friendly because it will be in their best interests to do so. By shifting these costs, we will help set corporations on a course for sustainability.
Corporate Republicans will tell us that we should let the corporations voluntarily design their own social responsibility programs. This is a shortsighted, terrible idea for several reasons. First, it is inefficient. The government is in the best position to research the issue of what kind of social responsibility is needed and tell each corporation how much they need to contribute to that. It is wildly inefficient for each corporation to have to conduct these studies on their own, repeating the same studies over and over when the government could streamline the process for similar businesses. Second, it is inaccurate. Corporations have no idea what kind of social responsibility is really required. The government could conduct massive studies to figure out exactly what is needed to make corporations sustainable. Corporate efforts are generally token efforts that give the appearance of social responsibility without actually being responsible. Third, it is better for society for the government to determine what corporate social responsibility should be. Given that the government can do a more accurate, efficient job, we will see a higher quality of life for Americans now and in the future with government-defined social responsibility for corporations.
I suggest some solutions for how we can shift the costs of corporate pollution back to the corporations, but ultimately scientists and economists should come up with the most accurate taxes to levy after being ordered to do so by Congress. First, we need emission taxes on every kind of pollution. Scientists should determine the actual costs to our environment from each type of pollution and then force corporations to pay those costs as a tax. The tax revenue can then be used to help the environment through the building of cleaning power plants, removal of toxic waste, and other costly environmental projects that the government currently does nothing about. The threat of a tax will push corporations to use cleaner fuel sources whose tax-free status would make their use help, not hurt, the corporation's "best interests". Second, we need to set legislative mandates regarding automobile production. Perhaps 20% of all cars should be hybrids by the year 2010 and 75% of all cars should be hybrids by 2020. These are realistic goals that would drastically reduce pollution and force corporations to mass produce hybrids. The result will be cheaper, more environmentally friendly options for consumers. The fuel efficiency goals on the books would be jokes if their deficiencies wouldn't result in the death of millions. That's no laughing matter, although the Corporate Republicans seem to be cackling all the way to the bank.
Another legislative goal, however, must be to get every corporation to develop and implement a sustainability plan. Corporations need to determine what kind of ecological footprint they are leaving upon this world and immediately take steps to lessen their impact on the environment. The government could accomplish this through existing environmental tests giving easy to manufacture guidelines. Further, the idea of corporate environmental analysis would create an entire new industry with new jobs. The result would be slightly less profits for corporations in the short run, increased jobs in the long run, and a much cleaner Earth with far less taxes in the long run. Forcing corporations to develop sustainability plans is a common sense, win-win game for all involved.
The real problem, however, is that none of this is about to happen. Corporations essentially own the government while the Corporate Republicans are in charge. Corporations are not going to make their own costs higher if they have control over the matter. Unless we have a massive revolution against the Corporate Republican party, none of my suggestions will come to fruition and we will remain polluting more than the Earth allows. This puts us on the path to environmental destruction.
III. WHAT CORPORATE EVIL WILL LEAD TO
Ultimately the reason that corporations will likely destroy America, if not the world, is because the reality of corporate consolidation and global warming will force certain issues upon us. The options for our future are as follows: 1) corporations destroy the American economy by stifling competition, 2) global warming causes a massive disaster on Earth that effectively ends the American experiment 3) corporate consolidation weakens, but does not destroy, the economy and the pending global warming disaster is somehow mitigated so that America lives on in a weakened form 4) the public is able to turn back the tide or corporate consolidation, saving the American economy, while simultaneously taking the affirmative steps needed to reverse the course of global warming.
How likely is the 4th option to occur? I would say it is nearly impossible. Corporations control this country's economic and political power. They aren't going to cede all of that power without a huge uprising across America. A series of great political leaders, presumably from the Democratic party, along with huge amounts of evidence of Corporate Republican malfeasance, could be enough to stop corporations from destroying our economy and our environment. However, people are frightened of massive change. An overhaul our entire system of governance may be impossible without a catastrophe pushing them that way. I feel the 3rd option is likely to occur once a depression hits or a major environmental disaster occurs. Most Americans see any environmental problem as far in the future and hardly anyone realizes that our economy is teetering on the brink of collapse. Only once the majority of Americans realize what we are up against do we have any chance of preventing an environmental or economic disaster that will destroy America.
Now some conservatives will say that the economy will be fine forever, even if corporate consolidation continues. Indeed it is likely that at some point, corporate consolidation could be stopped simply because the remaining corporations will find it in their bests interests NOT to continue to consolidate. After all, corporations do only what is best for themselves -- and if smart corporate executives see that further consolidation will soon destroy the economy and with it their corporation, they may decide to stop consolidating or even, heaven forbid, break up some corporations into smaller, competitive entities. I'm not sure how likely this scenario is, however. This would require the kind of out of the box thinking not currently present in American corporations. Right now the focus is on the near-term bottom line at all costs. If A and B are the only corporations left in America, and they find they can streamline costs and increase profits in the next quarter by merging, they will likely do so, even if the consequence is to leave America with just one corporation running the entire show. Any consequences that are not immediate will likely be disregarded. Even if corporate consolidation doesn't lead to the collapse of our economy, the possibility it could is a real one which much be guarded against. Additionally, it is against the American spirit to eliminate the free market in favor of an oligopoly. The United States was founded on noble ideas of fairness and equality for all. Each American should have a fair chance to compete in business. Corporate consolidation runs contrary to these goals that are shared by nearly all Americans. The government will, at some point, have to take affirmative steps to stop corporate consolidation. As activists, we need to start forcing our government to take these steps now.
The global warming issue is a very different one. Corporate Republicans will say that global warming is a myth, or if real at all, is hundreds of years away. Another GOP tactic is to claim that since science has solved all our problems in the past, some unknown form of science will solve global warming. First, global warming is a scientific fact that cannot be disputed by semi-reasonable minds. Further, we may have reached the point of no return when it comes to massive climate change. Democrats have abandoned this issue entirely even though the American people really do care about the environment. Corporations will not take steps to prevent global warming because it always costs the bottom line more to pollute less if we don't charge corporations for pollution costs. Those costs get passed onto the present and future citizenry so that corporations can seize more profit.
I propose that Democrats make the environment the #1 issue in every election from here until the end of time. The environment is the most important issue today because without the safety of planet Earth, humanity ceases to exist. The Corporate Republicans have no ammo to use against us here besides a sackful of fairly transparent lies. Their record is abysmal and consists mainly of lying while doing whatever corporate polluters want. Polls show overwhelming support for the environment, but the public requires a strong political party to lead the attack on polluters for the environment to skyrocket to the top of political concerns. John Kerry's failure to push the environment issue in 2004 is just another reason why he was a disastrous Presidential candidate. There is simply no risk in attacking the Corporate Republicans on their environmental policies. The only somewhat credible argument they have is "jobs". And the easy retort on our side is "Creating new scientific solutions creates high-tech, high paying jobs for the middle class. Further, there will be no jobs for anyone one if world is destroyed by global warming." This line of argument would put the Republicans on the defense regarding the environment. We would be able to frame the debate on an issue of immense practical and political importance. Surely this is a better strategy for gaining votes than attempting to play to homophobes or anti-choice crusaders who share little in common with the goals of the Democratic party.
In conclusion, I hope this post explains while I feel corporations will destroy America if we don't stop them from 1) destroying our economy or 2) destroying our environment. Since they are the party that acts only to serve corporate America, the Corporate Republicans deserve most of the blame. This is not to say that Democrats are blameless -- in a future post I will explain that they do serve corporate interests, but are simultaneously the only chance to take the Corporate Republicans out of power and weaken corporate influence.