Big business is NOT our friend

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I have been watching the events surrounding the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and it reaffirms my philosophy that Big Business is NOT our friend.

I’m not a Marxist or advocate state ownership of business but I do feel that industry needs to be heavily regulated. Big businesses, left to their own devices, will screw us over in some form if we aren’t watching them like a hawk. The corporation only answers to their owners and shareholders. With some rare exceptions, benevolence from big business only exists if it doesn’t cost them very much money and if they benefit from it.

History is full of the damage and chaos when big business is left to run amok. The big example is the Crash of 1929. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 89 percent of its value by 1932 and put us into a depression that didn’t subside until the start of World War II. That was 12 years of massive unemployment and suffering.

We had the robber barons of the 19th century which included John D. Rockefeller, John Jacob Astor and Andrew Carnegie. These guys were the Goldman Sachs and AIG of their day. Men like that were known for extensive use of child labor, deadly working conditions and strong arm tactics if workers complained.

Upton Sinclair wrote “The Jungle” that exposed conditions in the U.S. meat packing industry and led to the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906. Now we seem to be returning to those days when you didn’t know if your food or medicine was safe. The food industry have worked for years to reduce the regulations in place.

More recent follies included the Savings and Loan crash in the 1980s and there was Black Monday in October 1987 when the stock market dropped 500 points or 22.6 percent of value. We’re still experiencing the damage from the crash in 2008 and the collapse of the housing loan market.

The BP oil spill isn’t the first or last example of big business raping our environment in the name of profits. Google “superfund” and you will find a lot of information on trashed environments that taxpayers paid to have cleaned up — places like Love Canal, Times Beach and smaller locations like old factories that found it was cheaper to dump their hazardous wastes on their property than to have it properly disposed.

The problem with “big business” is shown in little ways as well. Grocery chains don’t locate in low income areas so those people are forced to pay more for their food. Money and favorable policies meant to help family farms end up going to agriculture conglomerates like ConAgra. Wal-mart treats their employees so bad that many have to apply for food stamps and welfare to make ends meet.

What bothers me the most is most people let these things happen or look the other way. One reaction is that they would rather have a cheaper price than a company that acts ethically and responsibly. Big business isn’t the driver of the economy. The engine of our economy is small businesses— the mom and pop locally owned shops and services. Big business’ charity work comes from their advertising budget and most of their profit leaves the area and contributes nothing where they operate.

An obstacle to stopping this screw over is the government. Legislators in D.C. or in the states are bought and paid for by big bushiness in some way. Both Democrats and Republicans. If we want to return our country to the people we need to only vote for people who will refuse to be bought.

Unless that happens, things like the BP oil spill will continue.

*This article appeared in the July/August 2010 issue of The Central Ohio Humanist*


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1 thought on “Big business is NOT our friend

  1. Matt H.

    In my long-gestating and frequently revised viewpoint, I have come to the conclusion that coporations are, essentially, morally neutral, with their only affiliation and loyalty is to see profit. I think that the problem we are seeing (and have seen throughout business in America) is in this system of public stock ownership, which concentrates this profit in the hands of a few who have money anyway and want more at any cost. This essentially anti-capitalist system of public ownership, where everyone pools money then splits profits, seems to me to upend many ideas of simple capitalist economic theory, as well as setting the stage for the creation of the gigantic mega-corporations that act outside of areas of regulation, nationalism, and accepted human decency. If a business is not "public-owned" (a term which sure sounds like socialism to me), then the business must answer to its customers, and it sees gain in keeping these customers, many of whom are also employees, happy, especially over the long-term life of the business. But with a public-owned business, it doesn't necessarily have to answer to its customers–it answers first to its shareholders, who must see the profit at any cost, often screwing customers, employees, and, even, societies in an effort to consistantly increase these profits in the short-term, leading to situations where people are put out of work, environmental disasters take place, customers are taken for a quick buck, and businesses are driven into the ground. As long as shareholders see profit, who cares? If the select few who bought a large enough share of the company can see enough money during their time destroying it, they can turn that around and apply it to making more money while destroying another company. I think true business competition is a great system, a system that puts the power in the hands of the customers who have a choice as to where to spend their money and workers who have a choice as to where they work. This encourages better product, better conditions, and a better society. However, when businesses must answer not to a broad customer/worker base, but instead to a select group of rich shareholders, the balance of power and responsibility has changed. I have come to the conclusion that the socialist/communist system of public corporate ownership is the heart of what is wrong with the American economic system and what perverts "business ethics" from the neutral balance that should be their to the idea of "profit at all cost".

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