- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Hey, Gort, I Got These Industries . . .

Posted by: Harpo Marx ( Boom! ) on December 14, 1999 at 10:36:29:

That's a nice story about your buddy the guitar maker, Gort. Watch out for socialism--on top of everything else it'll be hell to music!

Then again, I got these industries. These industries are right here in free-market capitalism. These industries depend on the myth and ideological rationale that consumers are sovereign, and that through the free-market and choice, consumers' demands are what is ultimately ruling the system.

Now, in reality, because of their vast resources and power, it is the industries, not the consumers, who are sovereign. But they don't want us to think like that.

I'll say that again: It is the producers, not the consumers who are sovereign.

And we're not talking guitars here either. We're talking cars that are dangerous to drive but the car companies don't care. We're talking chemicals that are marketed in accord with corporate convenience, not public health, and used without proof of safety. We're talking pollution dumped into our rivers, oceans and atmospheres the effects of which we can only speculate and wil haunt us for decades to come.

And the worst part is that the onus is on the public to prove otherwise. When companies put out a dangerous or harmful product (such as, say, asbestos) those consumers suffering injury or death in consequence, or their heirs, may sue for damages, but not only is the burden of proof unfairly located, damaged individuals have nowhere near the capital that the corporations have to endure long, drawn out court battles. The result is they often have to settle out of court. They often do so for a handsome sum, but with their payment comes a contract in which they must promise never to discuss the case with the media. If they do, they have to forfeit not only the settlement money but often a penalty as well.

So, the irony is, victim compensation can often have the effect of making more difficult the task of exposing how dishonest and madly profit-driven these corporations are. Sometimes the stories do get out, though, sometimes even in a court of law. Thus a memo disclosed in a suit against Ford for damages resulting from a faulty Pinto gas tank showed that the company had been quite aware of the defect, but, in a business practice that's not at all uncommon, calculated the cost of engineering improvement to probably greater than anticipated lawsuit damages resulting from injuries and deaths. So they didn't fix the famous exploding Pinto.

If America were a democracy, would this be allowed to happen? If consumer sovereignty weren't just a myth the corporations spoon feed the people to make us think we're in control, wouldn't we have complete access to court records and the records of liability settlements?

Well, that idea government and politicians have our interests at heart is a lie. They just tell us that to keep us quiet. Industries are driven by profit, and this motivation poses a danger to the public at large in a manner that your friend the guitar maker never could. Though they like the fact that they can fool guys into conflating the difference between a fellow making quality guitars in his father's farage and chemical companies destroying our planet.

I'll put it another way: Say your buddy were to find out that, his guitars had a chance of exploding if they are somebody plays an F#9th chord on them with a capo on the second fret would he sell them? Probably not, but that's a rare chord. So would he sell them with the warning not to play such a configuration? If he's your friend I'm sure he's, like you, a good guy; of course he wouldn't sell them!

But Dow Chemical would. Ford would. Exxon would. G.E. would. All the companies would. But before they did, they'd have a lot of memos that explained the problem, then statisticians to calculate how often guitarists play and F#9th chord with a capo on the second fret. Then they'd hire lawyers adept at stalling cases or in the art of making it to make it seem as if was the players' fault.

Then, they'd make sure they had a lot of influence in Washington so as to get favorable legislation. Hell, they might even get a block of government money to research the possibilities of military applications!

I hope you haven't grown tired of this guitar metaphor. Your friend, if he were only to listen to the voice within him, wouldn't do any of these things. And CEO's, in their natural state. The difference between your friend and a CEO, however, is that your friend the guitar maker still has the OPPORTUNITY to make business decisions based on his human instincts. CEO's simply CANNOT. CEO's must base their decisions on stockholders reports, and these show only the bottom line--how much profit did we make this year, and how much did it grow over last year?

With a couple of ex-wives to support and a mistress to pay some hush money to, not to mention a million dollar home with two mortgages on it and two kids in Ivy League colleges, maybe he better keep his mouth shut about the explosions in the research lab.

Can you see, Stu, how the decisions of major industries have nothing to do with making a guitar in your father's garage? Can you see how talent doesn't mean a thing except in the small artisan trades like your friend is in? Can you see how the corporations might have an interest in acting as if your friend's business is a microcosm of theirs?

For the rest of this post, I'll focus on the chemical industry. Are you old enough to remember Love Canal in New York, or Union Carbide's chemical disaster in Bhopal, India? These are legends of corporate irresponsibility.

In America, we have the EPA, a government agency ostensibly set up as a watchdog for corporate malfeasance. But it actually serves to thwart the public's say in what goes into our environment and food, and this was always the case. By the 1970's, the street power of the 1960's produced some leglislation banning some chemicals, but by the time the regulations came in the 1970's, the corporations had no trouble getting "grandfather" rights to continue producing tens of thousands of chemicals already in the market without assurances of safety; and for new chemicals, the only obligationof producers was to report any ill-effects to the EPA (but not to the public.

And consumer sovereignty is a lie, too unless one stays in the arena of brands of soda and cigarettes. How many times have you heard from the popular media that organic farming is safer and cheaper and more profitable and better tasting? Sure, the information is THERE--it EXISTS-- but it takes fanatics to search it out. Meanwhile, the networks give us sitcoms and shows with football-coach-turned-lesbian-transvestite-turned-mom.

With their power and influence, the producers maintain their continued ability and right to poison. They do so with five interrelated processes:

1) Controlling and limiting information; 2) using science as an instrument of public relations; 3) dominating or stalemating the regulatory processes, directly or through political influence; 4) the strategic use of litigation (e.g. the McLibel case, which created this very site!); influencing the media to normalize the producers right to poison.

I've written too much already. Here are some books for you to read:

Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" (1962)
Samuel Epstein's "The Politics of Cancer" (1978)
Sandra Steingraber's "Living Downstream" (1996)
Dan Fagin and Marianne Lavelle's "Toxic Deception" 1996
Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski and John Myers' "Our Stolen Future" 1997.

From Washington angle, William Greider's "Who Will Tell the People?" (1992) tells the story of sleazy influence peddling and backroom deals.

You say socialism is antithetical to Christianity? Hey, what about Jesus' line of a camel getting through the eye of a needle sooner than a rich man can get into heaven? What about the Sermon on the Mount? How about Jesus turning over the money-changers' tables in the temple?

I'm not expecting an answer. Anyway, maybe you're talking about how Christianity is PRACTICED IN AMERICA, like by Bible-thumping-tambourine-tappers who say Jesus would have been a Republican. If this is the case, and from this viewpoint you also say that we socialists should be ashamed, then I want nothing further to do with you.

Indeed, it is YOUR Christianity that is antithetical to SOCIALISM, so YOU should be ashamed! Right back at ya, god-boy!

Well, good luck to your friend who makes guitars. I hear Nero made some sweet sounds too.

Harpo Marx

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