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Big Business Really is the Enemy of the People

A revealing article in the New York Times discusses how oil companies, led by refiner Marathon Petroleum, mounted a major lobbying effort aimed at both the Trump administration and congress, to rollback auto emission standards because using less gasoline means refining and selling less gasoline and they would lose money. The administration’s proposed rollback, to freeze standards at 2020 levels, goes even further than those proposed by the automobile industry (who still opposed the Obama standards that required essentially doubling fuel mileage in new cars sold after 2025).

At the same time, Amazon decided to expand its centers to two new locations and city, county and state governments offered the company owned by the richest man in the world, millions of dollars worth of incentives to locate the centers in their areas, often at the displeasure of local citizens. 

The pharmaceutical industry, medical device makers and suppliers, and private health insurers have all opposed measures to rein in their costs and to put them under government controls, as is done in most other developed countries, even to the extent of opposing allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices from the industry.

Numerous studies of the effects of the Trump tax cuts, lobbied for and applauded by corporate America, have shown that the major benefits have been to stock market prices and corporate profits, even though wages and employment have continued to rise, but basically on the same trajectory they were on prior to the tax cuts. 

These are just some examples of the enormous power of big business to shape American policies, whether they are formulated by congress or the administration and its various agencies. In many cases, these policies run counter to the welfare of the majority of the American people. Most Americans are concerned about climate change, but our policies choose oil, coal, and auto industry profits over emission reduction. Millions of Americans are underinsured and devastated when they are hit by major illnesses, or even costly, medication-intensive chronic illnesses and old age. Wages have barely kept up with inflation and are sorely lagging behind the costs of living in major coastal metropolitan areas, particularly in the area of housing. The economy continues to grow and corporations and investors continue to flourish while the U.S. has the widest income inequality among developed countries, has the highest healthcare costs and some of the worst healthcare outcomes, has fewer doctors/per capita and fewer doctors being trained than most developed countries, has crumbling infrastructure and a failing educational system, and and is back in the business of polluting the environment.

In 2014 Gilens and Page, two academic researchers from Princeton and Northwestern Universities, studied approximately 1800 U.S. government policy decisions from 1981-2002 to determine whose interests determined the outcome of the decision. Their conclusion was that “Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.” We can assume that nothing has changed. 

What can be done? Wresting the control of government decision-making away from the “economic elites,” i.e. the wealthy, and “business interests” is a formidable task. The first step, I believe, is to elect, and continue to elect, representatives who favor policies that are in the best interest of the majority of citizens. In some cases, this may mean simply replacing those who have been in Washington so long that they are so deeply in the back pockets of corporate lobbyists that they can’t get out or refuse to. In other cases, it means electing people who support the right programs, which means paying attention to real issues not dog-whistle identity issues and muckraking. Politicians can’t just be against the corruption or behavior of their opponents, but need to be for real policy changes that put citizens back in the driver’s seat in choosing what the government does. And of course, changes start at the top. As we have seen, who is president matters. We also need transparency in how decisions are made. Behind-closed-door negotiations, such as occurred with the Trans-Pacific Partnership during the Obama administration, which allowed corporate priorities to dictate the terms of the deal, can’t be allowed.

What about taking to the streets? It seems to be working in France, but it’s not usually directed toward pocketbook issues in America. The Native American opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline had some success, and might be a model for protests on environmental and pocketbook issues. Unions have been weakened in the U.S. They used to be major political players and could offset some corporate interests. They were often a source of street protests and worker actions. There has been some resurgence of union-led protests in the fast-food, hotel and restaurant and nursing sectors, even in education, but unions need to grow in strength for workers to regain control of issues such as wages, healthcare and retirement.

Few of our current politicians seem to agree with the points I’ve made above. Some new faces, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, being the most prominent, do seem to get it and are exposing the deep sources of corporate influence in congress. Her revelation that new congress members’ orientation program at Harvard was basically run by and dominated by corporate and Wall Street lobbyists and didn’t include any voice of unions, workers, teachers or ordinary citizens, showed how our elected officials are quickly indoctrinated into a system that is rigged to satisfy the interests of big business. We need to elect more people like her and we each need to do our homework to understand what the issue are and how our candidates for office and those already elected feel about them. We live in a democracy and we should be in charge of what it does.





Reader Comments (5)

I agree with you, Casey. We're seeing rapacious, laissez-faire capitalism that even the nineteenth-century robber barons dared not envision. We need regulations, which we need to call Citizens' Protections, so as to take the discourse in the right direction for the average voter.

December 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAnca Vlasopolos

Why not look for the solution at the source of the problem?

Corporations and the ruling elite are quite concerned about their pocketbooks...particularly some corporations are particularly vulnerable to disruption by their customers or employees. Boycotts, buycotts, shaming of companies (and employees) are very effective tools. The US revolution was won nonviolently partly by boycotts of English goods that reached an astounding 98% effectiveness. The sentiment of the people was so deep that people would not wear black in mourning as all black cloth and dye was imported.

The current shaming of the NRA is causing a heavy retrenchment in their power and influence. Some banks have stopped lending to fossil fuel industries as a result of citizen boycotts and outreach.

...And the next time a government wants to raise taxes or fees on things that regular people use let's just tell them to tax the income and wealth of the rich instead. That gets their attention like nothing else.

December 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDariel Garner

Casey...rivera had an article published today on the use of nonviolent people actions against corp actors in this case the NRA https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/12/13/the-end-of-the-nra-business-magazines-tell-activists-the-strategy-is-working/

December 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDariel Garner

Hi Casey, I wrote my comment on my blog here: http://www.billiekelpin.com/essaysshortstories/

December 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBillie Kelpin

oops! I gave you the wrong URL for my comment. This is it: http://www.billiekelpin.com/new-paradigms-of-capitalism/

December 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBillie Kelpin

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