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This is Not Pretty June 24, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Ethics, politics.
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Two columns by Robert Herbert in the NY Times get to the heart of our current dilemma:

If a bank is too big to fail, it’s way too big to exist. If an oil well is too far beneath the sea to be plugged when something goes wrong, it’s too deep to be drilled in the first place.When are we going to stop behaving so stupidly? We nearly wrecked the economy and we’re all but buried in debt. But we can’t break up the biggest banks, and we can’t raise taxes. Now we’re fouling the magnificent Gulf of Mexico and ruining entire communities along the southern Louisiana Coast.

And, by the way, we’re still fighting a futile war in Afghanistan that we’ve been fighting with nonstop futility for nearly a decade…

For a nation that can’t stop bragging about how great and powerful it is, we’ve become shockingly helpless in the face of the many challenges confronting us. Our can-do spirit was put on hold many moons ago, and here we are now unable to defeat the Taliban, or rein in the likes of BP and the biggest banks, or stop the oil gushing furiously from the bowels of earth like a warning from Hades about the hubris and ignorance that is threatening to destroy us

And Herbert doesn’t even mention global warming, which is the biggest threat to our well-being that we refuse to confront. It is quite stunning how in a few decades we have gone from a country with vast economic, technological, and military prowess to a country seemingly unable to tie its shoes.

Herbert diagnosed part of explanation for this condition  in an earlier Times Op-Ed piece:

“Where I was wrong,” said President Obama at his press conference on Thursday, “was in my belief that the oil companies had their act together when it came to worst-case scenarios.”

With all due respect to the president, who is a very smart man, how is it possible for anyone with any reasonable awareness of the nonstop carnage that has accompanied the entire history of giant corporations to believe that the oil companies, which are among the most rapacious players on the planet, somehow “had their act together” with regard to worst-case scenarios.

These are not Little Lord Fauntleroys who can be trusted to abide by some fanciful honor system. These are greedy merchant armies drilling blindly at depths a mile and more beneath the seas while at the same time doing all they can to stifle the government oversight that is necessary to protect human lives and preserve the integrity of the environment.

President Obama knows that. He knows — or should know — that the biggest, most powerful companies do not have the best interests of the American people in mind when they are closing in on the kinds of profits that ancient kingdoms could only envy. BP’s profits are counted in the billions annually. They are like stacks and stacks of gold glittering beneath a brilliant sun. You don’t want to know what people will do for that kind of money. […]

The oil companies and other giant corporations have a stranglehold on American policies and behavior, and are choking off the prospects of a viable social and economic future for working people and their families.

President Obama spoke critically a couple of weeks ago about the “cozy relationship” between the oil companies and the federal government. It’s not just a cozy relationship. It’s an unholy alliance. And that alliance includes not just the oil companies but the entire spectrum of giant corporations that have used vast wealth to turn democratically elected officials into handmaidens, thus undermining not just the day-to-day interests of the people but the very essence of democracy itself.

Our excessive reliance on big business to solve problems and self-regulate is beyond bizarre, when you think of the fundamental norms that govern our business class.

As economist Robert Reich writes:

1 Why hasn’t BP moved more of its rigs and tankers to the site? Because BP’s first responsibility is to maximize shareholder value, and moving more rigs and tankers would be too expensive. […]

2. Why isn’t BP leveling with the American people about how many barrels of oil is gushing into the Gulf? Because BP’s first responsibility is to its shareholders, and a bigger leak means more liability. […]

3 Why isn’t BP acknowledging a huge plume of oil developing deep under water? Ditto. On Tuesday, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers reported subsurface oil as far as 142 miles from the leaking Gulf well, the first clear confirmation of such a plume. On Wednesday, BP rejected the report, insisting that it has not found any significant concentration of crude under the surface. “We haven’t found any large concentrations of oil under the sea. To my knowledge, no one has,” BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said on NBC’s TODAY show.

Notice the common theme here. It is a fundamental foundation of contemporary “business ethics” that corporations have no responsibility other than to maximize shareholder profit. What then is the basis for believing their actions will serve the community? To the extent the business community believes this (and they do, just ask them) they are entirely undeserving of our trust or support.

As Joel Bakin puts it in his legendary documentary The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders, corporations are psychopaths: thoroughly self-interested, manipulative, shallow in their relationships, and incapable of remorse or empathy.

We have turned our well-being over to psychopaths. And then we are surprised when things turn out badly?

Corporations are psychopaths; Americans are delusional.  This is not a pretty sight.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

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Comments»

1. Asur - June 25, 2010

While every instance of negligent conduct (intentional or otherwise) should be prevented when possible and punished when not preventable, the existence of such conduct is no reason to attack the capitalist enterprise itself.

This is because, historically, there are two major drivers for technological advance: The totalitarian state in time of war, and the capitalist state in time of peace.

Everything else is, simply, either inefficient or unmotivated in comparison.

By nature, every human endeavor is either enabled or secured through technology. Hence, wherever you locate the human good, it is the available technology that determines the limit to which it can be attained or kept. Thus, technology is the only perpetual, context-independent good — or rather technology and knowledge, as the two are one, the former being the material application of the latter.

What this means is that if liberty is better than despotism, capitalism — and all it entails — is the way to go. The fact that it entails corporate entities acting toward their own interest is the price paid for the benefits this generates.


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