April 2008

The monster of corporate capitalism

By Galen Larson

In Jackson, Mo., Wal-Mart is suing a brain-damaged woman and her family for the money it has paid for her medical expenses.

Debbie Shank, 52, sustained severe brain damage in a traffic accident eight years ago that left her in a nursing home. At the time, she was working for Wal-Mart and signed up with the company’s health and benefits plan. Wal-Mart paid about $470,000 for her medical expenses.

But two years after the accident, Shank and her husband were awarded about $1 million from a lawsuit against the trucking company involved in the accident. They wound up with about $417,000 after legal fees.

Now, Wal-Mart wants its money back, and the courts have ruled it has the right to that money, under a clause in its benefits contract.

Shank’s husband is fighting prostate cancer and supporting two children. Another son was killed in Iraq. Wal- Mart is the largest corporation in the world. But never mind. It wants every penny it can get.

I can’t think of another example that so perfectly shows what is wrong with capitalism today. I’m not talking about individual capitalism, but about bloated corporate capitalism.

Pyramid schemes and Ponzi schemes are illegal enterprises. If you or I engaged in one we would soon find ourselves incarcerated, as we should be. A crook is a crook, except when you are a large capitalist corporation. This Ponzi scheme works on the continued exploitation of the planet’s raw materials and the greed of its inhabitants. Like a gerbil running on its wheel, when the consumer stops demanding, the cage becomes quiet.

Capitalism is not a new concept. It has been with us since the demise of the barter system. It works well when everyone abides by the rules and when businesses don’t get too huge. Big is not always better, no matter what the women say. Mega-corporations answer to no one. They are ruled by the bottom line and a faceless conglomerate of investors, with a few owning not a majority but just enough to be in control yet remain inconspicuous. An interesting concept: The board of directors hires the CEO who then appoints the board. Corporate conglomerates control governments, commodities, prices and anything they deem of monetary value. They make the laws yet work outside the law. Every so often a CEO gets caught with his hands in the cookie jar and gets banished from the club and if he does time, after being defended by the corporate lawyers, he gets sent to a country- club prison. Yet the corporation goes on: Enron, Qwest.

Capitalism today has nothing to do with free market values. It has to do with control and profit. What is wrong with profit? Not a thing, as long as it is derived from a product that lives up to its advertised standards. But that doesn’t happen when there is no competition. When profit is the only goal, merchandise and consumers suffer. Where to put the blame— the greedy consumer or the investor? Each wants the most for the money, thereby creating a conundrum, or is it condom? Someone has to get screwed and more often than not it’s labor, consumers and small investors.

The largest corporations drive the smaller into the ground, becoming a controlling factor in our lives. They make laws to protect themselves, controlling our buying habits, interfering with health care and the food supply for our children and elderly. Yet it’s done so smoothly and secretively the majority doesn’t realize it’s happening.

Those that support unbridled capitalism oppose larger government and more regulations but never address the growing problem of the unrestrained power of capitalism. Mega-corporations have become a vehicle of power over people and nations, influencing elections, starting wars, getting people to accept domination. They control where we live, how we live, what we eat and what we are allowed to plant in our own gardens. What medicines we take, how much medical care we are entitled to, how to educate our children, the cars we drive and the speed allowed.

Individual entrepreneurs built this great country, not corporations. I’ll get some argument there but upon investigation one finds that corporations did not do it with their monies, but with government subsidies or corporate welfare, from railroads to communication.

In the past, the Sherman Antitrust Act used to control some of the shenanigans. Now the corporations go around it like a pilot going around a pylon at an air show. Sometimes they get their wings clipped, but the pilot like a CEO bails out with a golden parachute as the investor’s plane goes down in flames.

Capitalism is based on planned obsolescence and waste. No progress is made until capitalism finds a way to make a profit from it. Capitalism needs deregulation, privatization and cuts in social services to survive. Like a horrific monster, corporate capitalism must continue to consume or it dies. Worst of all, as the Wal-Mart case shows, it has no heart.

There is so much that can be written about the evils of corporate capitalism it can’t be addressed in one short article, so let me refer you to a couple of books, “Sustainable Capitalism” by John Iherd, and “The Shock Doctrine” by Naomi Klein. Only when we understand this behemoth can we hope to fight it.

Galen Larson writes from Montezuma County, Colo.