At the very top of the corporate ladder, decisions are made by a handful of people who effect millions of consumers. Some good, some not so good. The shale gas industry and Monsanto have concealed certain facts to protect their bottom lines while downplaying the health and safety threats of their product. But on a lower rung, there are those who work for mega-companies who are driven by the business model to act inhumanely towards the powerless people who depend on them for incomes and services.
This time of year we believe we see more good cheer and kindness among our fellow human beings than we do throughout most of the year. That may be true and then again all we may be seeing is more the facade of Christmas tidings than any lasting real expressions of “peace among men of good will”. This of course has always been the case with humans but now we have a new creation among us whose kindness is often marketed to promote its brand rather than reflect a compassionate heart beneath its exterior – the corporate citizen.
Corporate personhood has been around at least since the days of Jefferson who thought we should “crush … the aristocracy of our monied corporations” to prevent them from supplanting our newly formed government with their massive wealth, allowing them to defy “the laws of our country”. His fears have made themselves manifest where today corporate personhood does indeed defy those laws meant to protect us all against the avarice of unlimited wealth. The vast sources of income that has gravitated to these entities make some wealthier than most sovereign nations around the world.
Corporations are the dominant force in modern life, surpassing even church and state. The largest are richer than entire nations, and courts have given these entities more rights than people. Gangs of America: The Rise of Corporate Power and the Disabling of America by Ted Nace
I know we can’t care for every unfortunate soul and there will always be those who exploit a system to avoid doing their fair share in our free market economy, and I’m not just talking about low-income people.
Even in a nation that prides itself on its Christian heritage there still exists people who have been abused all of their lives and deprived of human warmth. These are the people who transfer various levels of cruelty to the succeeding generations they breed. And though fundamentalist Christians would have us believe that such cruelty exists because people have separated themselves from God I would remind them that the Church itself has a history replete with child abuse, and not just the Catholic Church.
We can’t change all behavior that hurts others. The numbers are simply too overwhelming. But we can target certain people who impact thousands of individuals under their control.
During this joyous of seasons as we see the corporate citizen warming up to the consumer, behind the scenes are displays of callous indifference toward the people they employ, creating working conditions not much better than sweat shop labor in the cheaper foreign labor markets.
Such disregard for the people who break their backs to make these people and their investors rich was the norm during the Gilded Age by Robber Barons and on into the early 20th century and during the Great Depression. While re-watching “The Grapes of Wrath” on Netflix recently I was once again struck by how cruelly the Okies were treated who were forced off of their lands by the banks after years of crop failure from dust storms. They were viewed as pariahs as they migrated to what they thought was “the land of milk and honey” in California. In their travails they were often scorned by local authorities who worked for “the man” and were compelled to work for starving wages or be run out of town by thugs paid by insensitive property owners.
I thought to myself, what a rough life they had to endure back then but the next day finding myself reading articles that demonstrated such cruelty still exists. Today’s migrant workers, mainly from hispanic origins are still expected to live in shoddy housing for less than minimum wage. Many are controlled by a foreman who may take advantage of immigrants, especially the illegal ones, depriving them of the money they expected to be paid, or where women are raped.
There are the Walmart workers who work for wages insufficient to cover most living expenses while having to do the work of 3-4 people. If they complain they are threatened by supervisors with retribution or firing.
There was the Amazon worker who has a Master’s Degree but unable to find work that matched her educational experience, went to work for minimum wage, but like everyone else on the labor force at Amazon, was treated like “beggars”, having no real job or income security from the company that supplied Amazon with temp workers.
Other abuses by humans have been foisted on many whose health care needs began to exceed what insurers were obligated to provide, but often wound up reneging on. Malcolm MacDougall, a prominent speechwriter and creative director who was diagnosed with prostate cancer failed to get the care he needed before dying because Health Republic and its affiliate MagnaCare failed to honor the necessary requirements medical professionals claimed he needed. Just before he succumbed to his disease he discovered on one rejection letter that he was essentially too costly for his insurance company to sustain. In a form letter that denied the medical services needed it stated that “Member is over 85-year-old and continues to smoke.” He apparently had lived too long to be a profitable asset for MagnaCare and the high premiums he was surely paying as a smoker were no longer sufficient to justify the cost of keeping him alive.
In a similar vein we discover that doctors are forced to look at their patients as a number, part of a metric that rates who gets what kind of care, whether they need it or not and often, like Malcolm MacDougall, denied what their physicians feel are necessary. Insurance company personnel, not doctors decide what’s best for the insured while catering to the Pharmaceutical industry whose profit motives too often over ride the concerns a physician might have. Patients are expected to be treated as commodities in ways that benefit greater revenue for the insurance companies.
Obviously not all businesses are so callous in their treatment of people. Many still pay a decent living wage and provide generous benefits. Many workers still earn a sustainable income to live comfortably and save for their kids’ education and their own retirement. But those seem to be going the way of the polar bear. Study after study continues to show that the income disparity in this country and around the world is growing, not shrinking.
Greater wealth in the hands of fewer people enhances their power and distances them from the real world of the common man and woman. The lessons of history that demonstrated how greed and inflated egos destroyed the great civilizations of the past appears lost on the Robber Barons of today. History also shows that you can push human suffering only so far before the people rise up and overthrow their oppressors. We are seeing this in the poorest regions of the world more and more and greater signs of it in areas where the economies once favored a strong middle class, like Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain
In the end Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath echoed the sentiment of the impoverished and powerless. He vowed to stand up for those individuals who become beat down by the system that deprives them of their dream for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Something that some people think is automatic but has been seriously side-tracked by the income disparity we now find ourselves deep in the middle of.
“Maybe I can do something … find out something. Scrounge around and find out what it is that’s wrong, and see if there ain’t somethin’ that can be done about it.
A fella ain’t got a soul of his own. Just a little piece of a big soul. The one big soul that belongs to everybody. Then, … then it don’t matter. I’ll be all around in the dark. I’ll be everywhere. Wherever you can look. Wherever there’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there is a cop beating up a guy, I’ll be there.
I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper is ready. Then when the people are eating the stuff they raised, living in the houses they built – I’ll be there too.
No, we can’t prevent every human abuse that occurs around us, but as part of the bigger soul of humanity we can impact those who mistreat those who work for them and who are expected to provide the goods and services consumers were promised. We can have businesses that provide the consumer goods we need and want without the abuse and neglect too many engage in. You can’t baptize a corporate citizen with water but you can with how you choose to spend your money.