We should all trust corporations to regulate themselves. After all, they have always behaved responsibly in the past, haven’t they?
What’s that, you say? Love Canal? The coal sludge flood? Arsenic and gold mining? Carbon-dioxide, carbon-monoxide, methane? New England Compounding? The mining disasters? Acid runoff?… Gee, I didn’t know.
The entire purpose of a corporation is to make profit, all of which goes to the owners. Those who do the actual work don’t get any of it unless they are also owners. Corporate owners tend to view all laws and regulations as intrusions that diminish their personal profit. Certainly the Republican party does, and advocates an unregulated market. Whether a corporation behaves responsibly in an unregulated market would depend on the specific individuals in charge, but the corporation itself has a sort of life that nobody controls.
Responsible corporate behavior costs money, and irresponsible behavior can gain a market advantage. (A great current example is Papa John’s Pizza, which never had employee health care, and angrily raised prices “because of Obamacare”. This was welcomed by Ian’s Pizza, which always had responsible employee health care, but found it difficult to compete with the less responsible chain.) A responsible corporation may become an irresponsible corporation with the change of a single top executive. For this reason alone, corporations are not capable of responsible self-regulation. But there are other reasons.
A responsible corporation may become
an irresponsible corporation
with the change of a single executive.
Corporate self-regulation is unwise because there are inherent conflicts between capitalism and the wellbeing of the public and the environment. Even if most corporations behave responsibly, others can be counted on to do exactly the wrong thing. Regulation means nothing without the threat of punishment, and only the federal government has the power to enforce regulations. Regulation, properly enforced, means all corporations must always behave responsibly, and that requires the power of law.
Corporation leaders can’t allow themselves to believe that anything outside their company is important. They are entirely focused on profit. But there are such things. Two of these are our life support system and life itself. That is, environment and safety.
When an irresponsible corporation poisons the environment, the result is often a concentration of sickness and death in the communities nearby. Spewing excessive greenhouse gasses results in global warming, affecting the whole world. When safety is ignored, people are injured or killed.
Corporations and their leaders are entirely focused
on their own interest, which boils down to
profit and nothing else.
All these are the usual result of flouting laws, regulations, common sense, and morality. But the most frequent response of corporations is to fight their abdication of responsibility every inch of the way, because they are sure that responsible behavior cuts profit—although the opposite is often true. But if regulation is inadequate, or regulation has been delegated to those who should be regulated, there will always be those who will take shortcuts and endanger people, the environment, or both.
A current case is the New England Compounding Company of Massachusetts, the drug compounders responsible for 30-and-rising meningitis deaths, and 404 infections from their products, with life-threatening spinal abscesses now appearing. Between 2003 and 2006 there were six complaints against them to administrations in Massachusetts. Instead of following up, the state government allowed the company to regulate itself. There is no better illustration of the need for government regulation.
The New England Compounding Co. of Mass.,
responsible for 30 meningitis deaths and
404 infections, is the perfect illustration of the
need for government regulation.
But Republicans consider government regulation to be interference with the high holy Free Market, which must never be impeded because profit is the very reason for living. Regulation is also part of the vast overreach and excessive cost of government, according to very rich conservative Republicans who seek to become even richer. Regulations are hundreds of pages long, they say, and impossible to comply with. But the fact is that all of the excess pages of regulations are submitted by corporations, and list the many reasons they should not be regulated. See Ross Eisenbray’s “Anti-regulatory malarkey” (Economic Policy Institute).
In the corporate mind, all human enterprise is reduced to one thing: profit. Nothing justifies compromising profit, according to capitalists. But to the rest of us, saving the lives of those who would be sacrificed on the altar of the Free Market, or preventing poisoning of the life support system we all depend on to live, or promoting the wellbeing of the entire planet, are worth far more than the largest of corporations. But that’s just my opinion.