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Social Harms Induced by Private Financial Gain

Summary: As we grieve the latest horrific mass shooting of school children, this and other recent stories highlight a broad societal challenge: untrammeled focus on profit that undercuts basic social values. We see this with guns, corporate norms, foreign policy, and US health care. It’s time to elevate values over profits.

Letters from an American – Heather Cox Richardson

Now a player in national politics, the NRA [National Rifle Association] was awash in money from gun and ammunition manufacturers. By 2000 it was one of the three most powerful lobbies in Washington. It spent more than $40 million on the 2008 election. …

Increasingly, NRA money backed Republican candidates. In 2012 the NRA spent $9 million in the presidential election, and in 2014 it spent $13 million. Then, in 2016, it spent over $50 million on Republican candidates, including more than $30 million on Trump’s effort to win the White House. This money was vital to Trump, since many other Republican super PACs refused to back him. The NRA spent more money on Trump than any other outside group, including the leading Trump super PAC, which spent $20.3 million.

New York Times – The Ransom – The Root of Haiti’s Misery: Reparations to Enslavers

[W]e tabulated how much money Haitians paid to the families of their former masters and to the French banks and investors who held that first loan to Haiti, not just in official government payments on the double debt but also in interest and late fees, year after year, for decades.

We found that Haitians paid about $560 million in today’s dollars. But that doesn’t nearly capture the true loss. If that money had simply stayed in the Haitian economy and grown at the nation’s actual pace over the last two centuries — rather than being shipped off to France, without any goods or services being provided in return — it would have added a staggering $21 billion to Haiti over time, even accounting for its notorious corruption and waste.

For perspective, that’s much bigger than Haiti’s entire economy in 2020.

New York Times – Jack Welch CEO of General Electric

He closed factories and fired employees by the tens of thousands, unleashing a series of mass layoffs that destabilized the American working class. He devised systems like “stack ranking,” which mandated that the bottom 10 percent of workers be fired each year, and took root at other companies. And he embraced offshoring and outsourcing, sending labor overseas and turning to other companies to provide back-office functions like accounting and printing.

… Mr. Welch’s obsession with finance allowed him to steadily inflate G.E.’s valuation in the public markets. … the company derived much of its profit from GE Capital, which was essentially a giant unregulated bank. Mr. Welch called it “the blob” — it was an amorphous, ever-changing collection of financial assets, capable of delivering whatever adjustments were most advantageous to the parent company in a moment’s notice.

Comment By: Jim Kahn

We are shocked and saddened by the latest mass murder of school children enabled by easy access to powerful assault weapons. Gun regulation has failed repeatedly despite vast public support. This is due to the immense influence of the NRA, achieved via massive political donations – funded by gun and ammunition manufacturers in pursuit of maximum profits. NRA leaders also hugely profit personally.

What struck me in other stories this week is the recurring theme of how financial gain, when elevated to the driving objective, shifts policy to unconscionable extremes. The newly liberated nation of Haiti was forced into perpetual economic distress by the French and then US government and bankers. The US middle class was enfeebled by a generation of corporate leaders worshipping at the cost-cutting-&-finances-manipulating alter of Jack Welch. This list is not exhaustive, just what caught my attention in recent days.

And, of course, there is widespread compromise to health care access, and the imposition of increased mortality, by profit-obsessed insurers, provider conglomerates, and drug companies.

The answer is not “let market forces decide our values”. The answer is, “let the market thrive within admirable social values”.

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