Some people think the Occupy movement and the issues brought up by the protests is something new. I know I’ve been talking about corporatism and income inequality for many years. While archiving some past writings, I found an essay I wrote in 2003 which has ideas in it that wouldn’t seem out of place today – unfortunately.
The essay originally appeared in the November/December 2003 issue of the Central Ohio Humanist – newsletter of the Humanist Community of Central Ohio. While I didn’t make wholesale changes in republishing the essay here, I did make some edits that were missed the first time which popped out while reading it again the other day. Feel free to check out the original version at the link noted above.
Naivete Can Be A Negative
I admit that at some points in my life I have been naive. It started when I believed there was a Santa Clause and Easter Bunny and that is why I had to be a “good boy”. Later I believed that the Son of God died for my sins and if I only believed, I would have a much better life in heaven. Growing up in a predominately Republican town, I use to think that the GOP and its agenda was the best political solution for any problems. I was told “What is good for business is good for the USA”. The fog has cleared and I know now I was led astray.
As a kid I was enamored with business and the whole corporate culture. It looked cool to work in an office building and driving the latest model car. I would read tossed out Wall Street Journal issues, follow business news on television, and while most my peers spent their free time playing sports, I had a fake corporation to run with mergers and board meetings. It looked great coming from my low-income trailer park existence then.
I think most naivetes are based on ignorance. When you don’t have all the information you make poor decisions and judgments. It was like that for my thoughts on business.
As I have gathered more knowledge, seen the other side of issues, and measured competing ideas, I have found I no longer subscribe to the adage that what is good for business is good for the USA.
My awakening started in my High school economics class when I learned that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Every thing we buy and every thing we do has a cost that comes with it. These costs can’t be ignored or erased.
In simplest terms, one major goal of business is to shift their costs away from them and onto someone else to maximize their business profit and minimize costs.
What is good for business is more than likely bad for the USA when those costs are shifted.
Labor, taxation, environmental rules, worker safety, and other issues between business and society at large has been reduced to a line on a balance sheet. A lot of times society ends up on the negative side of that sheet. It happens because politicians, the people who are suppose to work for us have been essentially bribed by special interest groups including business lobbyists. They pay off our elected officials for favorable votes.
In 99% of the cases, businesses make decisions to maximize profits for the short-term. It is this short-term outlook that can have long term negative consequences.
Tax breaks given to companies as pay off for locating in a certain area shifts that tax burden to the rest of us. A community might get a handful of jobs out of the transaction while they lose money used to keep roads and other infrastructure maintained.
Relaxing pollution regulations, while great for businesses that pollute, can and has harmed workers and even the business’ customers. You can’t build a business if you harm or kill your customers. However, profits seem to be much more important than healthy neighbors and customers.
Moving manufacturing jobs out of the country does save business a lot of money since they only have to pay the new workers less than a couple of dollars a week at most. That savings is never passed on to customers while jobs here in the US go *POOF*. Those jobs aren’t coming back, but hey who wants to pay extra for their television?
Giving tax breaks to the top 10% of income earners, while shifting that burden to the lower 50% who can’t afford it, doesn’t create jobs. It just fattens the wallet of those who already have more than they need. What needs to happen, at least here in Ohio, is getting the 81% of corporations who don’t pay their corporate income tax, to pay what they should be paying and that could reduce the tax burden for the rest of us.
Judging worker safety rules based only on monetary costs dehumanizes the worker and puts them in danger. A sick, injured, or dead worker doesn’t spend money on televisions, cars, or home appliances. Most of their money goes to the health industry, which likes sick and injured people who can pay for their treatment. If I didn’t know better I think it could be some kind of conspiracy.
A recent farm bill passed in Congress was meant to help the dwindling number of family farms yet a clause in the bill helped several major food producers get a government windfall that looked great on their balance sheet and for their shareholders. Too bad customers and low paid farm workers didn’t see that free money passed on to them in lower prices or improved products.
I still believe business is important to our country. I think we shortchange the real business generator – small business – for the big business profit that never trickles down to the community as we’ve been told it should. Can you name any benefit to having a Wal-Mart open in your town? You get low prices, sure, but a majority of the money you spend there leaves the community. Wal-Mart’s low paid workers have little income to spend on much more than basic needs to live. Meanwhile the mom and pop shop downtown has to close because they can’t compete and because that business closes, Little League has one less sponsor and a store front goes empty. That kind of “trickle down” economics isn’t a good thing but that version happens more often than not.
I believe a rational look at business issues and the removal of the bribery of our politicians will help restore the balance. Right now, that balance is broken and we are all paying for big businesses free lunch.
*Note* I did get some of the percentages wrong because in 2011 it is much worse than it was in 2003.
A comment I hear from cheap labor conservatives all the time goes something like:
It seems President Johnson’s “Great Society” failed because the poverty level hasn’t changed much in 40 years.
My response is of course the poverty level hasn’t been been reduced as much as thought in the 1960’s because in the past 30 years cheap labor conservatives have nickel-and-dimed the economy (massive tax cuts, massive deregulation, massive religious right attacks) negating major positive results of the “Great Society” programs we would have seen over that time period. It is kind of like when a business has to pay a new tax and so they jack up the prices customers pay. The business’ profits aren’t affected by the tax but the customer is less able to afford the new price.
Shifting the costs seems to be the mantra of the corporatist.