of the system in action
How the System Works
(or doesn't work) and What to Do About It
- Of the world's 100 largest
economic entities, 51 are now corporations and 49 are countries. (see chart)
- The world's top 200 corporations
account for over a quarter of economic activity on the globe while employing less than one percent of its workforce. (source)
- The richest 1 percent of Americans
own 40 percent of the nation's household wealth (as of 1997). (source)
- The assets of the world's
358 billionaires exceed the combined annual incomes of countries with 45 percent of the world's people. (source)
- The average CEO in the U.S.
made 42 times the average workers pay in 1980, 85 times in 1990 and 531 times in 2000. (source)
- The courts have given
corporations the basic Constitutional rights of persons, but workers lose those rights on entering the workplace.
- The corporate share of taxes
paid has fallen from 33 percent in the 1940's to 15 percent in the 1990's. Individuals' share of taxes has risen from 44 to
- The World Trade Organization
effectively gives corporations veto power over our U.S. environmental and labor laws, weakening your right to protect ourselves
and our land by our legislation
In 1983, 50 corporations controlled the vast majority of all news media in the U.S. At the time, Ben Bagdikian
was called "alarmist" for pointing this out in his book, The Media Monopoly. In his 4th edition, published in 1992, he wrote "in the U.S., fewer than two dozen of these extraordinary
creatures own and operate 90% of the mass media" -- controlling almost all of America's newspapers, magazines, TV and radio
stations, books, records, movies, videos, wire services and photo agencies. He predicted then that eventually this number
would fall to about half a dozen companies. This was greeted with skepticism at the time. When the 6th edition of The Media
Monopoly was published in 2000, the number had fallen to six. Since then, there have been more mergers and the scope has
expanded to include new media like the Internet market. More than 1 in 4 Internet users in the U.S. now log in with AOL Time-Warner, the world's largest media corporation.
In 2004, Bagdikian's revised and expanded book, The New Media Monopoly, shows that only 5 huge corporations -- Time Warner, Disney, Murdoch's News Corporation,
Bertelsmann of Germany, and Viacom (formerly CBS) -- now control most of the media industry in the U.S. General Electric's
NBC is a close sixth.
"The $150 billion for corporate subsidies and tax benefits eclipses the annual budget deficit of $130 billion. It's
more than the $145 billion paid out annually for the core programs of the social welfare state: Aid to Families with Dependent
Children (AFDC), student aid, housing, food and nutrition, and all direct public assistance (excluding Social Security and
"After World War II, the nation's tax bill was roughly split between corporations and individuals. But after
years of changes in the federal tax code and international economy, the corporate share of taxes has declined to a fourth
the amount individuals pay, according to the US Office of Management and Budget." --Boston Globe series on Corporate Welfare
Eldridge Cleaver said, “show me a capitalist, and I’ll show you a pig.” Or as I prefer, “Capitalism is a piggish system,” because not all capitalist will do major
harm for the sake of profits. However, once they operate as a group, it is the
rare exception when profits do not come first. Thus the tobacco industry fights
for their right to kill 450,000 people a year. But each industry when there is
a like conflict behaves similarly. We read of how the utilities want to undo
EPA regulations on airborne mercury from their coal burning plants, and how drug companies design the legislation which passed
in 1992 which reduced funding for the FDA to follow drugs after they have been approved.
This is mass murder. The pain medication Vioxx which in 5 years resulted
in an estimated 140,000 heart attacks resulting in 55,000 premature deaths. Both the FDA and Merck had reason to follow
up on evidence of Vioxx causing heart attack when it was approved in 1999, but such follow up was beyond the funding of the
FDA and not in the financial interest of Merck. Moreover, Merck actively worked
to silence the 7 clinicians who had gone public over the then suspected premature deaths.
Vioxx was withdrawn until 2004, and by that time Merck had made billions.
Penylpropanolamine (PPA), an over-the-counter diet drug has been available since the 1970’s, and
since then there were reasons to question its safety. Finally, at the behest
of the FDA, a study funded by the trade association contracted Yale University
School of Medicine to do an epidemiological study of PPA. In 1999 it confirmed that PPA caused hemorrhagic stroke. Instead
of withdrawing the drug with $500 million annual sales, the manufactures hired Weinberg Group, a product-defense consulting
firm based in Washington D.C. to attack that study. A year later the FDA
advised the industry to withdraw PPA. Extrapolated from the study is the estimate
that PPA caused 200-500 stokes per year among 18 to 49-year old people.[i]
This is unwillingness to confirm adverse consequences coupled with active resistance to regulations
is similar to the response of the cigarette industry. Given how this pattern
of maximization of profits, there is a dire need to make public well being an integral part of the rules for corporate success. This can be accomplished in four fundamental ways:
regulations, oversight, punishment, and rewards. EPA regulations are an
example of regulations, OSHA inspections an example of oversight, law suits and finds are examples of punishment, and government
contracts are example of reward.
Is it desirable to have advertising influence the selection of drugs by clinicians? First such information, coming from the supplier, is always slanted.
The impact of advertising is to create confusion, to make much more likely the less than ideal choices, to increase
the cost of drugs, and to divert funds from new research, by making the dollar barrier that much higher for releasing a return
on a new drug sufficient to cover all expenses including the numerous dead-ends.
[i] Source, Doubt is Their Product,
David Michaels, Scientific American, June 2005, p.98.