Corporate Cost Shifters

Shifting costs to us, that is. That’s what they do. My guess is that you have no more interest in paying their costs than I do.

Conservative business interests have been able to get away with much of their money manipulations over the years because they can shift a number of hidden costs onto society at large, thus keeping more for themselves. In the parlance of economists, these costs are called “external”. These true costs, these costs outside the bookkeeping of big corporations, are what the rest of us pay so they can increase their profit. We lose, they win. These costs we pay consist of several things.

There are environmental costs. When a company dirties the air or water, it affects everyone. The effect of a single company’s filth may be hardly noticed by the public, but it’s a real effect, with costs in lost health and other ways. When many companies foul the air the effect is very obvious. The same holds true of water pollution, and there are other costs that become public, not often thought about, such as inefficient transportation of their goods, which increases the national petroleum consumption as well as its air pollution. Corporations therefore have believed it was in their interests to oppose every tiny bit of environmental legislation or regulation to come down the pike, thereby making us pay the cost rather than them.

Corporations frequently fire large numbers of workers during downturns. They simply turn them out and forget them. This affects first the families that no longer have the workers’ income, but can have much broader social effects. If this unemployment persists for a long time, workers can lose not only their job, but their home, their health insurance, and so on. This can have a profound effect on not only their family, but all of society. The effect of persistent unemployment is readily apparent in today’s recession. Tax revenue is reduced because of unemployment, and everyone suffers because governments at all levels are unable to perform their duties, and are forced to fire still more workers, making the problems worse yet. We’re all paying for it.

A large percentage of the richest and most massive corporations today pay absolutely nothing in tax to the United States Treasury. Bank of America, which employs a quarter-million people, is only one; there are many others. Corporations are fond of complaining bitterly about their high tax rate, which on paper is one of the highest, but which is irrelevant if their effective tax rate is zero. At the same time, they practically own Congress, and for many years have bit by bit arranged matters dealing with their taxes and other responsibilities to suit themselves. This can be done by recommending to their favorite senator that he or she insert an innocent sounding sentence into a 600-page piece of legislation. A thousand such innocent minor changes have kept Congress on their support list, and sometimes Congress simply accepts major corporate recommendations lock, stock, and barrel. And so, today we have a situation in which a big corporation like Bank of America contributes absolutely nothing in desperately needed tax revenue, while the rest us pick up the check.

That brings us to the Masters of the Universe, those princes of Wall Street whose money manipulations for the rich have been the major causative factor in the global financial disaster we all enjoy today. These people contribute nothing to society. Their entire purpose is to enrich themselves and their wealthy patrons by manipulating other people’s money. As we are all aware now, they consolidated bundles of ill-advised bad real estate loans and called them investments, which soon collapsed, causing a tsunami of pain felt all around the globe. Then, while the rest of the world remained mired in the disaster they caused, they announced that the downturn was over, and once again paid themselves annual bonuses of tens of millions of dollars. It’s not true that no one is serving time related to this mess. It’s not one of the criminals in the chauffeured limos, though. It’s a borrower, one borrower.

At the same time, Republican conservatives, supposedly honoring their sacred principles, but in reality honoring only the gods of uncontrolled greed, have made it their goal to oppose bitterly anything and everything that might cause the situation for the rest of us to improve. They want all power and money to go to the rich. They want to remove the only power that the average person has in defending his own livelihood against them, that of representation by unions. Thus the several state proposals to disallow collective bargaining, and anything that smacks of the interests of the real people. The governor of Maine even managed to remove a mural depicting labor history on grounds that it was biased against business. (Kind of reminds me of Rockefeller’s destruction of Diego Rivera’s huge 1933 masterpiece at RCA Center in NY because there was an image of Lenin among the many others of influential people.)

During the Clinton administration, Republicans caused government to function at less than half efficiency by making it their policy to file thousands on thousands of requests for information in large amounts, subpoenas to appear at many hundreds of meetings, and lawsuits they had no interest in winning. The entire point was to cause trouble by throwing sand in the gears. They’re back at it, in full swing, doing the same things, but are taking their strategies to new extremes.

The latest attempts are to create a chill among researchers and academics by demanding all of their email. They do this not because they actually believe anyone is doing something illegal, but because they want to find something they can make a lot of noise about in claiming malfeasance. They pored through thousands of the emails of climate scientists, not to refute their evidence on global warming, which is irrefutable. What they were looking for was evidence that some scientist disliked them, which should not be terribly hard to find, since they are such complete fools.

So they made a clamor about “Climategate”, which meant nothing to anyone except the poor souls whose weak reasoning skills allowed them to believe it. Their latest target is a distinguished historian who has a personal political blog like this one (but undoubtedly better). They want all his university emails that have terms like “Republican” and other horrible, incriminating terms in them. The goal is to create trouble, toss cold water over people’s public statements about them, perhaps to invent some way to claim that federal money is being used to foster biased political views—as if their own machinations do not reflect bias. This also will come to nothing. As for me, it has only made me despise them a little bit more.

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