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From: Rich Winkel, INTERNET:rich@pencil
To: Patricia Dines, 73652,1202
Date: Sat, Dec 14, 1996, 10:55 PM
Subject: Stop Corporate Welfare! [by Ralph Nader]
/** headlines: 136.0 **/
** Topic: Stop Corporate Welfare! [by Ralph Nader] **
** Written 8:45 AM Dec 12, 1996 by newsdesk in cdp:headlines **
/* Written 12:57 AM Dec 10, 1996 by email@example.com in twn.features */
/* ---------- "Stop Corporate Welfare!" ---------- */
STOP CORPORATE WELFARE!
What are poverty welfare programmes (e.g. a $300 monthly cheque
given a welfare mother), says well-known consumer advocate Ralph
Nader, compared to the corporate welfare programmes that shovel
huge amounts of taxpayer money to corporations through inflated
government contracts, subsidies, loan guarantees, etc?
By Ralph Nader
The issue of concentration of power and the growing conflict
between the civil society and the corporate society is not a
conflict that you read about or see on television. So
unfortunately, most of us grow up corporate; we don't grow up civic.
If I utter the following words, what images come to mind:
crime, violence, welfare and addictors? What comes to mind is
street crime; people lining up to get their welfare cheques;
violence in the streets; and drug dealers - the addictors.
And yet, by any yardstick, there is far more crime, and far
more violence, and far more welfare disbursement (and there are far
more addictors) in the corporate world than in the impoverished street
The federal government's corporate welfare programmes number
over 120. They are so varied and embedded that we actually grow up
thinking that the government interferes with the free enterprise
system, rather than subsidising it.
It's hard to find a major industry today whose principal
investments were not first made by the government - in aerospace,
telecommunications, biotechnology and agribusiness. Government
research and development money funds the drug and
pharmaceutical industry. Government research and development funds
are given freely to corporations, but they don't announce it in ads
the next day.
Corporate welfare has never been viewed as debilitating.
Nobody talks about imposing workfare requirements on corporate
welfare recipients or putting them on a programme of 'two years and
you're out'. Nobody talks about aid to dependent corporations. It's
all talked about in terms of 'incentives'.
At the local community level, in cities that can't even
refurbish their crumbling schools - where children are without
enough desks or books - local governments are anteing up three,
four, five hundred million dollars to lure very profitable
baseball, football and basketball sports moguls who don't want to
share the profits. Corporate sports are being subsidised by cities.
Corporations have perfected socialising their losses while
they capitalise on their profits. There was the savings-and-loan
debacle - and you'll be paying for that until the year 2020. In
terms of principal and interest, it was a half-trillion-dollar
bailout of 1,000 savings-and-loans banks. Their executives looted,
speculated and defrauded people of their savings - and then turned
to Washington for a bailout.
Foreign and domestic corporations can go on our land out West.
If they discover gold, they can buy the acreage over the gold for
no more than $5 an acre. That's been the going rate since the
Mining Act of 1872 was enacted. That is taking inflation-fighting too far.
There's a new drug called Taxol to fight ovarian cancer. That
drug was produced by a grant of $31 million of taxpayer money
through the National Institutes of Health, right through the
clinical testing process. The formula was then given away to the
Bristol-Myers Squibb company. No royalties were paid to the
taxpayer. There was no restraint on the price. Charges now run
$10,000 to $15,000 per patient for a series of treatments. If the
patients can't pay, they go on Medicaid, and the taxpayer pays at
the other end of the cycle, too.
Yet what is the big issue in this country and in Washington
when the word 'welfare' is spoken? It is the $300 monthly cheque
given a welfare mother, most of which is spent immediately in the
consumer economy. But federal corporate welfare is far bigger in
dollars. At the federal, state and local levels there is no
comparison between the corporate welfare and poverty welfare programmes.
We have 179 law schools and probably only 15 of them (and only
recently) offer a single course or seminar on corporate crime. You
think that's an accident? Law school curricula are pretty much
shaped by the job market, and if the job market has slots in
commercial law, bankruptcy law, securities and exchange law, tax
law or estate planning law, the law schools will oblige with
courses and seminars.
One professor studying corporate crime believes that it costs
the country $200 billion a year. And yet you don't see many
congressional hearings on corporate crime. You see very few
newspapers focusing on corporate crime.
Yet 50,000 lives a year are lost due to air pollution, 100,000
are lost due to toxics and trauma in the workplace, and 420,000
lives are lost due to tobacco smoking. The corporate addictor has
a very important role here, since it has been shown in recent
months that the tobacco companies try to hook youngsters into a
lifetime of smoking from age 10 to 15.
When you grow up corporate, you don't learn about the reality
of corporate welfare. The programmes that shovel huge amounts of
taxpayer dollars to corporations through inflated government
contracts via the Pentagon, or through subsidies, loan guarantees,
giveaways and a variety of clever transfers of taxpayer assets get
very little attention.
Knowing What's Ours
We grow up never learning what we own together, as a
commonwealth. If somebody asks you what you and your parents own,
you'd say homes, cars and artifacts. Most of you would not say that
you are owners of the one-third of America that is public land or
that you are part-owners of the public airwaves.
When you ask students today who owns the public airwaves you
get the same reply - 'the networks', or maybe 'the government'. We
own the public airwaves and the Federal Communications Commission
is our real estate agent. The radio and TV stations are the tenants
who are given licences to dominate their part of the spectrum 24
hours a day, and for four hours a day they decide who says what.
You pay more for your auto licence than the biggest TV station
pays for its broadcast licence. But if you, the landlord, want in
on its property, the radio and TV stations say, 'Sorry, you're not
going to come in.' These companies say they've got to air trash TV
- sensual TV, home shopping and rerun movies.
We have the greatest communications system in the world and we
have the most demeaning subject matter and the most curtailed
airing of public voices (known in the trade as 'sound bite'). The
sound bite is down to about five seconds now.
You and your parents also may be part-owners of $4 trillion in
pension funds invested in corporations. The reason this
doesn't get much attention is that although we own it,
corporations control it. Corporations, banks and insurance
companies invest our pension money. Workers have no voting
mechanism regarding this money. If they did, they'd have a
tremendous influence over corporations that have major pension
[**] Not controlling what we own should be a public issue, because
if we begin to develop control of what we own, we will marshal vast
existing assets that are legally ours for the betterment of our
society. That will not happen unless we talk about why people don't
control what they own.
[**] All of the reforms require a rearrangement of how we spend our
time. The women who launched the women's right-to-vote movement
decided to spend time - in the face of incredible opposition. The
people who fought to abolish slavery also decided to spend time.
The workers who formed the unions gave time.
The Power of Civic Action
Historically, how have we curbed corporate power? By child
labour prohibition, by occupational health and safety rules, by
motor vehicle standards and food and drug safety standards. But the
regulatory agencies in these areas are now on their knees. Their
budgets are very small - far less than 1% of the federal budget.
Their job is to put the federal cop on the corporate beat
against the illegal dumping of toxics. But these laws do not get
high compliance by corporations, and the application of regulatory
law and order against corporate crime, fraud, abuse and violence is
at its lowest ebb. I've never seen some of these agencies as weak
as they are now. President Ronald Reagan started it and President
George Bush extended it. And now we have 'George Ronald Clinton'
making the transition very easy.
The dismantling of democracy is perhaps now the most urgent
aspect of the corporatisation of our society. And notice, if you
will, two pillars of our legal system - tort law and contract law.
The principle of tort law is that if you are wrongfully
injured, you have a remedy against the perpetrator. That's well
over 200 years old. And now, in state legislatures and in Congress,
laws have been passed, or are about to be passed, that protect the
perpetrators, the harm-doers - that immunise them from their liability.
[**] When the physicians at the Harvard School of Public Health
testify that about 80,000 people die in hospitals every year from
medical malpractice - a total larger than the combined fatalities
in motor vehicle accidents, homicides and death by fire each year
in the US - it raises the issue of why our elected representatives
are vigorously trying to make it more difficult for victims of
medical malpractice to have their day in court. [Note:President
Clinton vetoed one such far-reaching tort reform bill.] paragraph in
health case system
As in the Middle Ages, 1% of the richest people in this
country own 90% of the wealth. The unemployment rate doesn't take
into account the people who looked for a job for six months and
gave up, and it doesn't take into account the underemployed who
work 20 hours a week. Part of growing up corporate is that we let
corporations develop the yardsticks by which we measure the
Democracy is the best mechanism ever devised to solve
problems. That means the more we refine it - the more people
practise it, the more people use its tools - the more likely it is
we will not only solve our problems or at least diminish them, we
also will foresee and forestall risk levels. When you see
corporations dismantling democracy, you have to to take it very
seriously and turn it into a public political issue.
Among the five roles that we play, one is voter-citizen,
another is taxpayer, another is worker, another is consumer and
another is shareholder through worker pension trusts. These are
critical roles in our political economy. Yet they have become
weaker and weaker as the concentration of corporate power over our
political and cultural and economic institutions has increased year by
We're supposed to have a government of, by and for the people.
Instead we have a government of the Exxons, by the General Motors
and for the DuPonts. We have a government that recognises the
rights and liabilities and privileges of corporations, which are
artificial entities created by state charters, against the rights
and privileges of ordinary people.
Jefferson warned us that the purpose of representative
government is to counteract 'the excesses of the monied interests'
- then the merchant class; now the corporations. Beware of the
government that doesn't do that. - Third World Network Features
About the writer: Ralph Nader, a pioneering consumer advocate who
calls himself 'a small "d" democrat', is the US Green Party
candidate for president. This essay is excerpted from a speech
Nader delivered at Pennsylvania's Haverford College.
This article, which first appeared in Earth Island Journal ('It's
Time to End Corporate Welfare As We Know It', Fall 1996), was
adapted from a longer version published by The Washington Spectator
[The Public Concern Foundation, Inc, London Terrace Station, PO Box
20065, New York, NY 10011].
When reproducing this feature, please credit Third World Network
Features and (if applicable) the cooperating magazine or agency
involved in the article, and give the byline. Please send us cuttings.
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