Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts
Volume 2, Number 24 July 21 - 27, 2002 Quezon City, Philippines
By RALPH NADER
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The relentless expansion of corporate control over our political economy has proven nearly immune to daily reporting by the mainstream media. Corporate crime, fraud and abuse have become like the weather; everyone is talking about the storm but no one seems able to do anything about it. This is largely because expected accountability mechanisms -- including boards of directors, outside accounting and law firms, bankers and brokers, state and federal regulatory agencies and legislatures -- are inert or complicit.
year after year, the established corporate watchdogs receive their profits or
compensation directly or indirectly from the companies they are supposed to be
watching, independent judgment fails, corruption increases and conflicts of
interest grow among major CEOs and their cliques. Over time, these institutions,
unwilling to reform themselves, strive to transfer the costs of their misdeeds
and recklessness onto the larger citizenry. In so doing, big business is in the
process of destroying the very capitalism that has provided it with a formidable
the following assumptions of a capitalistic system:
Owners are supposed to control what they own. For a century, big business has
split ownership (shareholders) from control, which is in the hands of the
officers of the corporation and its rubber-stamp board of directors. Investors
have been disenfranchised and told to sell their shares if they don't like the
way management is running their business. Nowadays, with crooked accounting,
inflated profits and self-dealing, it has proven difficult for even large
investors to know the truth about their officious managers.
Under capitalism, businesses are supposed to sink or swim, which is still very
true for small business. But larger industries and companies often have become
"too big to fail" and demand that Uncle Sam serve as their all-purpose
protector, providing a variety of public guarantees and emergency bailouts. Yes,
some wildly looted companies that are expendable, such as Enron, cannot avail
themselves of governmental salvation and do go bankrupt or are bought. By and
large, however, in industry after industry where two or three companies dominate
or presage a domino effect, Washington becomes their backstop.
Capitalism is supposed to exhibit a consensual freedom of contract -- a distinct
advance over a feudal society. Yet the great majority of contracts for credit,
insurance, software, housing, health, employment, products, repairs and other
services are standard-form, printed contracts, presented on a
take-it-or-leave-it basis. Going across the proverbial street to a competitor
gets you the same contract. Every decade, these "contracts of
adhesion," as the lawyers call them, become more intrusive and more
insistent on taking away the buyers' constitutional rights to access to courts
in favor of binding arbitration or stipulate outright surrender of basic rights
and remedies. The courts are of little help in invalidating these impositions by
what are essentially private corporate legislatures regulating millions of
Capitalism requires a framework of law and order: The rules of the economic game
are to be conceived and enforced on the merits against mayhem, fraud, deception
and predatory practices. Easily the most powerful influence over most government
departments and agencies are the industries that receive the privileges and
immunities, regulatory passes, exemptions, deductions and varied escapes from
responsibility that regularly fill the business pages. Only those caught in
positions of extreme dereliction ever have reason to expect more than a slap on
the wrist for violating legal mandates.
Capitalist enterprises are expected to compete on an even playing field.
Corporate lobbyists, starting with their abundant cash for political campaigns,
have developed a "corporate state" where government lavishes
subsidies, inflated contracts, guarantees and research and development and
natural resources giveaways on big business -- while denying comparable benefits
to individuals and family businesses. We have a government of big business, by
big business and for big business, even if more of these businesses are
nominally moving their state charters to Bermuda-like tax escapes.
socialism" -- the privatization of profit and the socialization of risks
and misconduct -- is displacing capitalist canons. This condition prevents an
adaptable capitalism, served by equal justice under law, from delivering higher
standards of living and enlarging its absorptive capacity for broader community
and environmental values. Civic and political movements must call for a decent
separation of corporation and state.
1938, in the midst of the Great Depression, Congress created the Temporary
National Economic Committee to hold hearings around the country, recommend ways
to deal with the concentration of economic power and promote a more just
economy. World War II stopped this corporate reform momentum. We should not have
to wait for a further deterioration from today's gross inequalities of wealth
and income to launch a similar commission on the rampant corporatization of our
country. At stake is whether civic values of our democratic society will prevail
over invasive commercial values.
Nader is the founder of Public Citizen.)
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