Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Seven Evil Industries

We all know that there are serious problems affecting our economy. Obviously there are many causes for the plight of the middle class and the general economy: there's the slow assault on wages and benefits, the dwindling of the manufacturing sector, thirty years of rising home values driving up the cost of housing, and now the rapidly increasing cost of oil driving up the costs of food, heat, and transportation, even as outsourcing's downward pressure on the cost of consumer goods artificially suppresses inflation. As a nation we're vastly poorer than our parents' generation, yet for the most part, addressing the problem seems too massive to even approach. Who is really responsible?

It's obvious that big business is guilty of outsourcing jobs, keeping wages low, externalizing costs to the greater society at every opportunity, and spending millions on lobbying for their own interests. Yet there are certain industries which really push the boundaries, forces of corruption that actively impede the change that's necessary for our nation to prosper. They spend billions on subverting the government officials, influencing elections, buying airtime for candidates, dictating policy to the regulatory bodies meant to oversee them, disrupting competition, acquiring no-bid contracts, gaining monopoly rights over their industries, continually expanding the budget through waste entirely directed towards the pockets of their shareholders. They are a drain on society; anti-democratic, anti-competitive forces that not only impede progressive change, but the efficient functioning of free markets as well. They endanger our civil rights, the stability of the economy, and the legitimacy of the republic. And due to their massive power in our government, and their controlling interest in most of broadcast media, they are the principle obstacles that must be overcome if we are going to restore democracy, and preserve any measure of prosperity in the decades to come. 

Frustratingly, most of these industries are integral to maintaining our standard of living; they gain wealth and power through us simply living the lifestyle we're accustomed to. The question is how can we overcome them? Some of these industries can be circumvented by cooperating within our communities, making change and voting with our dollars. Others will require gaining power in our state and local government. And in the case of a couple of these, nothing short of gaining control of a majority in congress can hope to bring us back to sanity.

So here's the big seven:

1. Finance. 40% of GDP is now centered in the financial industry. They run up bubbles for their own benefit, are largely responsible for the massive increase in executive pay across all industries, and contribute next to nothing to the rest of the economy. Ideally, they are a useful tool for preserving wealth by investing in the common interest of the nation. Sadly, the reality is that they are a massive drain on society, an exercise in gambling on an unprecedented scale, and the dominant cause of economic instability in the world. They spend millions each year on influencing government, and are wildly successful. The White House financial advisory staff is a revolving door for the titans of Wall St and their cronies in academia. They have perpetuated the single largest scam in history, holding the economy hostage in a successful attempt to extort more than a trillion dollars to cover their gambling debts, even while constantly pushing for shifting the tax burden further onto the middle class, even if that means destroying the nation entirely. There's no doubt, we're talking about Public Enemy #1 here.

2. Energy. They poison our oceans. They level mountains. They pollute our communities. They actively lobby against the scientific community, promoting ignorance and confusion on the state of scientific consensus. The fact is that we have reached peak oil, meaning an ever-increasing cost of energy. Peak coal, peak gas, and peak uranium will all be reached before 2030, meaning we have less than 20 years to completely redesign our energy infrastructure if we are to have any hope of continuing our way of life. These companies actively stand in the way of the technologies that can ensure our nation a prosperous future, and will do everything in their power to make sure we don't transition to a post-fossil fuel economy until this nation's wealth is bled absolutely dry, making it nearly impossible for us to avoid catastrophic collapse of the system, meaning massive food shortages and an unprecedented level of economic hardship. This network of oligopolistic companies enjoys massive tax breaks, subsidies, and exclusive government contracts. They are the single-greatest enemy of the environment, and a long-term threat to our economic security. And they will spend millions each year to keep getting their way. 

3. Defense. In 2009, we were responsible for 46% of the world's military spending, more than tripling the spending of our nearest competitor. More than one trillion dollars is spent every year keeping us in our two wars and countless military bases around the world. And no industry is more rife with corruption, inside dealing, and government waste. Fully 25% of  spending in Iraq and Afghanistan is unaccounted for. No-bid contracts are the norm here. The demands of this industry alone are responsible for dictating our foreign policy, and as Bob Woodward's new book shows, even the President has very little control over the agenda. This industry is completely out of control, a threat not just to our economy, but to global security. And don't forget, we're talking about a group of people with no moral compunction about making a policy of condoning torture, assassination, and wholesale killing of civilians perceived to be opposed to American foreign policy, despite the obvious evidence that these practices are actively damaging to national security. 

4. Health Care. There are millions of hard-working Americans who work in health care, and really want to help people, and by and large do a damn good job of it. Then there are drug companies, insurance companies, and the 'cooperatives' who control the purchasing of medical supplies. We spend twice as much as anyone else on earth, yet can't even break the top 20 for life expectancy. Drug companies actively pervert scientific findings, suppress research on unpatentable natural medicines, spend billions on advertising, redirect research dollars away from cures and towards symptom treatment, away from life-threatening illnesses and towards highly marketable and dubious treatments for marginal and widespread cases of depression, anxiety, ADD, and sexual dysfunction. Little attention is paid to the rise of superbugs due to overuse of low-potency anti-bacterials, the deaths of thousands due to malpractice and inadequate use of communication technology, and the role of lifestyle on health. Meanwhile, drug and insurance companies are literally writing the laws set to govern their industry, ensuring that despite massive increases in the number of customers, nothing is done to reign in the massive increase in costs since Clinton failed to implement a single payer system, to the point that our nation's nods to intelligent socialized medicine are prevented from negotiating prices with these jackals.

5. Food. Apart from a few tiny island nations that subsist almost entirely on Spam, America is by far the most obese nation on earth. And why is that? Many Americans can no longer afford to choose healthy food. But primarily, it's due to a system of subsidies that favors meat production above all else. We are the world's leading exporter of corn and other feed grains, and we pay dearly for the privilege. Draining our nation's aquifers with wasteful irrigation techniques, eroding our topsoil with unneeded tilling, poisoning our waterways with outrageous amounts of petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides, endangering food supplies with untested genetically modified organisms. We pay billions each year to preserve the profits of a junk-food industry that is literally killing us, indirectly through obesity-linked diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, as well as direct causes like increased incidents of salmonella and e.coli outbreaks. The constant search for profits absent of any sense of moral value, combined with the industry-controlled structure of farm subsidies has led to giant factory farms, seething hell-holes too gruesome to believe. It's led to a country where you can get a day's worth of calories for a couple dollars if you eat processed garbage, but you could at best hope to gather a meal's worth of healthy vegetables. Once again, we have a situation where anti-competitive actors subvert both the needs of the nation and the healthy functioning of market forces.

6. Prisons. Here in the US, we have 5% of the world's population. Yet we have 25% of the world's prisoners. We are in the top 5 for executions. These industries wield surprisingly massive influence, contributing to the increasing tyranny we suffer under. They, inseparable from the evil bastards in the defense industry, contribute to a culture of fear and authority. They block the relaxation of drug laws. They contribute to a punishment mindset that does nothing to reduce crime. The police, bundled in here for convenience' sake, operate without accountability, capable of murdering citizens at will, knowing they will never be sent to prison. Then there's the corruption. Judges who get bonuses for sending inmates to particular prisons. Companies who gain massive profits from the slave labor. Cops who rob drug dealers and rape sex workers. FBI raids on peaceful protestors. Massive companies selling guns and equipment for top dollar at taxpayer expense. An unprecedented level of authoritarianism, and all just to mitigate the social effects of the corruption from these other industries.

7. Telecommunications. Hopefully we all know that more than three quarters of all broadcast media, our newspapers, our television stations, our radio stations, they are all owned by fewer than 10 companies, which even now are consolidating their positions. These companies are in turn owned by the same wealthy industrialists found in the board rooms of all of these other industries, and consequently, media consistently reflects the needs of all of these industries. Let's take GE for example, bringing good things to light by not only making lightbulbs and investing in electricity production around the nation, but also building weapons for the defense department. They, of course, own NBC (as well as a number of porn companies). And it should come as no surprise that they dictate content, colluding with News Corp subsidiary Fox News to shut down debate found overly revealing of both companies' back room dealings. But it's not just that! There's also the government sponsored monopolies of internet and cable providers keeping us out of the top 20 for broadband internet penetration, AND the top 20 for both wired and wireless connection speeds, despite the fact that we pay more for our services than anywhere on earth. These being the same companies conspiring to restrict what we can and cannot do on the internet, and creating new opportunities to fleece their captive audience. 

2 comments:

  1. I caution you against attempting to use the government to solve government created problems. Since government is a nearly unshakable, unquestionable conduit for power it will always be at risk of being a target for corruption. Because of this government should have its power pared down to the essentials.

    Go item by item and look at this list and examine how government was clearly put to use to bring about each component of this nightmare.

    1. Financials: Fed-reserve, "mixed-economy", bailouts, no-risk creditors etc...

    2. Energy: Tax-breaks, subsidies, patents, favoritism,acts as a customer etc..

    3. Defense: A great customer.

    4. Health-care: Regulation, patents, generally closed market created this problem. The health-care problem could not and would not exist without the governments interference/participation. Single-payer will work similarly- if the government is loyal to the insurance/hospitals/drug-companies it will remain so. Even if you win it over to the people now- it will be subject to corruption again.

    5. Food: Subsidies, regulation, obstacles to the market. In fact you could, at this point realize that government is an obstacle to almost every single aspect of life excepting being a consumer/taxpayer.

    6. Prisons: Big money, big fear, unjust laws and government is the only entity that can lock people up without having to answer for it.

    7. Telecommunications: Government again right? Monopolies too. Any time there's a monopoly the government, in one form or another, is there backing, unless there's private coercion involved (which is illegal and intolerable).

    It's a big mistake to think that the big rabid Doberman that's slowly been raised and trained by a group/class of people for longer than we've been alive can have its loyalties re-aligned permanently. It's far smarter to de-claw, muzzle, restrain and neuter the threat so that the next time it runs amok it won't be able to make the nasty mess it has made this time.

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  2. I gotta be honest here. You're making one of the most common faulty arguments out there, one that completely ignores how and why the government makes the decisions it makes. And it is a damn nightmare that it is so immensely popular in this country, because it is an argument that directly feeds the agenda of the corrupting forces in this country.

    Government isn't corrupt and fucked up because it's a juicy target, it's corrupt because wealthy powers corrupted it, and because we haven't put a stop to that corruption! The government is at this point a tool used by the forces of evil against the people of the world. So who's at fault: the people doing the corrupting, or the institution itself? And you can make the argument that it's too dangerous a weapon to be allowed to exist (yet strangely enough, I hear few libertarian arguments against nuclear proliferation), but the fact is that we have government for a reason. And one of the very most important is so that we can have a body of power that is accountable to the people. We have a government to provide the services that cannot be efficiently provided by the market. We have a government to protect the best interests of the nation. It has been corrupted, and as a conduit of power, yes, it will always be at risk of corruption. But the government is an incredibly useful tool, one without which our way of life simply could not exist. And so what is necessary is not some unbelievably simplistic plan for the wholesale destruction of government, but a reasoned and realistic plan of protecting government from corruption by limiting the influence of moneyed interests, and making it more difficult to exploit the government process for private gain, while making it increasingly difficult for those moneyed interests to profit by the exploitation of their workers and the environment as well.

    So how does this dubiously useful argument of yours aid these industries that are using government to abuse the people? Because they control the process by which you propose to implement it. Take environmental protection, for instance. The libertarian argument is that if we allow people to get together and sue for the damages caused by pollution, we can do away with costly environmental regulations. This is not actually feasible in any way, but let's say that it could work, if properly implemented. But the reality is that because these evil industries control the process of deregulation, they're getting rid of the regulations that get in their way without ever addressing the large beneficial regulations they have. These include the limited liability afforded by the state to corporate entities, the tax advantages they have, and the power over the judicial system that their vast profits give them, not to mention the benefit of publicly funded infrastructure and other more industry-specific subsidies. Attempts to root out government corruption by attacking the power of government merely enhance the power of the corruptors. It's dumb. It's the same sort of thing as eliminating our freedoms to protect us from terrorists who hate us for our freedoms.

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