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*