If I listen to Republicans, along with a few friends and readers, this country’s problems would all disappear if only intrusive government and pesky regulations were eliminated, and capitalism allowed to become the rule of the land. Free markets are the rights’ mantra for economic growth, led by tax reductions for wealthy individuals and corporations.
Being unencumbered with hazy, gossamer-like Republican altered states and sound-byte mantras, I’d rather study facts and consider a few recent incidents before jumping to their conclusion.
Wal-Mart is a retail giant and paragon of right-wing capitalism. It also has a long history of labor abuses and lawsuits, including sexual harassment, discrimination, locking employees in and shorting their pay. The company is noted for abusive relationships with suppliers, and recently eliminated employee profit-sharing to pay additional bonuses to CEO Michael Duke.
A New York Times investigation resulted in a 3-page spread in Sunday’s newspaper. Wal-Mart de Mexico is reported to have paid over $24 million in bribes to speed the permit process and pave the way for the chains rapid growth in Mexico, far outstripping its competition.
The details of the payments are contained in the original article. [see link, below]. But a few points are worth repeating. The president of Wal-Mart de Mexico, Eduardo Castro-Wright, was the driving force behind the years of bribery. Corporate Wal-Mart’s lead investigator was a former FBI agent, and summed up his report to management in Bentonville, Arkansas with “There is reasonable suspicion to believe that Mexican and USA laws have been violated.”
Further, he recommended that Wal-Mart expand the investigation. The recommendation was fully studied by Lee Scott, CEO at the time, and Michael Duke, current CEO. Wal-Marts’ then legal counsel, Maritza Munich, warned the board and key executives of the apparent violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and supported a further investigation.
Instead of taking the ethical steps of implementing the recommendation, Under Scott’s direction, the investigation was quashed. Castro-Wright was subsequently promoted to Vice-Chairman of Wal-Mart, and until stepping down this week, was a member of the board and lead ethics director for Met Life.
So much for Company Best Practices statements, Board level Ethics, Audit Committees and Compliance Officers.
The Obama administration is catching flack for its having put the Keystone Pipeline project, at least the Nebraska section, on hold, pending a safety review.
Republicans are attacking Obama on the dubious grounds of thousands of jobs and the loss of additional oil available to cut the price of gasoline.
First Actual Fact: Over 95% of the oil delivered to Gulf ports by the pipeline is destined for export-the impact on US oil available for our consumption is negligible.
Second Actual Fact: The Keystone Company has clearly stated on several occasions that there would likely be 4,000-6,000 construction jobs, lasting approximately 18 months. Actual full-time, new positions upon completion would not exceed 50 jobs.
The original proposed pipeline route carried it over the largest aquifer in the US, and the sole source of drinking water for millions of mid-west residents. Ignoring the possible risks of a spill upon the aquifer, the Republican party, with a few crossing Democrats, are pressuring the Administration to lift the ban and begin construction, claiming the ban is a political maneuver by Obama.
Our Pipeline History:
BP Petroleum, (Name sound familiar?) manages the Alaska Pipeline, a project of similar size and scope. Under their care the pipeline has averaged about 100 or more leaks per year for the last several years! Luckily, most have been small, but 100 leaks per year? And just to show a consistency in BP’s performance as a “Good Corporate Citizen,” they have amassed a file full of violations and fines for improper maintenance.
Sounds eerily similar to the months leading up to the Gulf spill. A box full of safety violations, tens of thousands of dollars in fines, and yet BP continued their dangerous ways.
One significant leak and the environmental damage will be catastrophic. It takes a surprisingly tiny amount of oil to poison drinking water. Why should we be rushing to take that risk? Keystone has indicated its willingness to look at rerouting the pipeline, why can’t the “Capitalism at all Costs” Republicans?
And consider this: Capitalism role models BP and Wal-Mart operate today under laws and regulations. Imagine their behavior if there were no laws and regulations?
These are just two examples of corporate capitalism gone wild. The fact is that we have not had true capitalism, nor a market-driven economy in this country for the last 30-50 years. Free wheeling mergers and acquisitions have eliminated the balancing effect of market-driven competition. Prices are set in boardrooms, not in the marketplace. Labor has been decimated to the point it lacks any ability to negotiate wages or working conditions. We are paying close to $4.00 a gallon for gasoline not because of demand, but because regardless of the name on the pump, the gas is delivered through the same pipeline, from the same refinery, owned by the same corporate parent, who sets the price.
Romney’s Vision of Capitalism:
If only all government regulations, such as those covering air and water pollution, shop safety, and labor would all go away, then our economy would come roaring back, the wealth would trickle down to the individual, wages would increase, and we would return to the age of greatness that America once was. This was the essence of Romney’s victory speech this Wednesday, his vision for the future. Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne captured it clearly in a piece from April 26th. [see link, below].
For me, I have not forgotten “The Jungle”, Upton Sinclair’s description of work in the Chicago stockyards. Or mining disasters where hundreds were killed. Those that survived could look forward to dying of black lung disease. I remember stories told by my Grandfathers of his labor in the paper mill as a child of 12.
But there is likely no better a book to read about the risks of unfettered capitalism and the company owners, unregulated, uncontrolled, and uncaring, than those described in the biography, “Clarence Darrow” by John A. Farrell. This was a time, 100 years ago, that saw capitalism at it unrestrained worst, and one lawyers’ attempt to change people’s lives in the face of unmitigated greed. It was a time of 6 day work weeks, 12 hour days, child labor, overpriced company housing, rampant disease, poor food, and nonexistent medical care.
This is the wondrous freedom of “Capitalism” that Romney sees in our future.
May his dream never come to fruition.
But that’s just me…
- Allegations could put Wal-Mart’s reputation back on the line (marketday.msnbc.msn.com)
- Mexico investigates Wal-Mart permits (cnn.com)