The Globalization of Hypocrisy
The damage caused by the relentless corporate drive for profits has become clearer in recent years. In the most important areas of American life, devastating changes have occurred.
- Health Care: Almost half of working-age adults in America passed up doctor visits or other medical services because they couldn’t afford to pay. The system hasn’t supported kids, either. A UNICEF study places the U.S. 26th out of 29 OECD countries in the overall well-being of its children.
- Education: Student loan balances increased by 75 percent between 2007 and 2012.
- Household Wealth: Median wealth fell by 66 percent among Hispanic households and 53 percent among black households between 2005 and 2009, mainly because of the mortgage banking collapse. Almost half of Americans have zero wealth, with their assets surpassed by debt.
- Water and Food: Life-giving seeds and drinking water have been increasingly treated as products to be bought and sold.
All these areas of life have been degraded by a free-market system that has thrived on publicly-funded research, infrastructure, and defense. Yet in a brazen show of hypocrisy, major corporations have ignored all the problems they’ve caused, choosing instead to cut their taxes in half despite doubling their profits, to hold 60 percent of their cash offshore, to eliminate workers rather than create jobs, and to reduce the pay of their remaining employees. An Apple executive explained: “We don’t have an obligation to solve America’s problems.”
No Allegiance to Anyone
Big business has found its utopia, a world in which millions of people are willing to work for a fraction of U.S. salaries. In this dream world of global capitalism, young people are going from zero income on the farm to a few dollars a day on a 12-hour factory shift—and based on the World Bank’s poverty threshold of $1.25 per day, they’re no longer “in poverty.” So the media piles on praise for free markets. The Economist proclaimed that “poverty is declining everywhere.” The Washington Post gushed that “a billion people have been lifted from poverty through free-market competition.”
But the reality is very different. Poverty levels haven’t changed much in 30 years, with almost half of humanity, up to 3 billion people, living on less than $2.50 a day. A quarter of the world’s children—over 170 million kids under age 5—are growing up stunted because of malnutrition.
The World Bank estimates the total cost for a successful attack on malnutrition would be approximately $10.3 to $11.8 billion annually. Apple alone underpaid its 2012 taxes by $11 billion, based on a mere 35 percent rate. It may be time to update the company’s quote: “We don’t have an obligation to solve the world’s problems.”
Even if there were no obligation to help solve the world’s problems, there is an obligation to pay for global energy consumption, infrastructure usage and industrial pollution. Yet a review of 25 multinational companies shows clear negligence in meeting that responsibility. The 25 companies—with almost a half-trillion dollars in 2011-12 income—paid just 8 percent in taxes to the U.S. and 9 percent to foreign countries. A 35 percent tax—paid to any country or countries—would have generated another $90 billion over 2 years, 4 times the amount needed to battle malnutrition.
Making the World Pay
A recent study estimated that toxic pollution affects the health of more than 100 million people, shortening their productive life spans by 12.7 years on average. A related study concluded that in 2010 over 8 million individuals were at risk of exposure to industrial pollutants at 373 toxic waste sites in three low-income countries (India, Indonesia, and the Philippines).
Some of our largest multinational companies hold top positions on the federal contractor misconduct list, which recognizes corporate environmental ethics and labor violations. Oil spills are common. Underdeveloped countries like Nigeria have been ravaged by oil production. Big firms are buying up farmland in more than 60 developing countries. Most perversely, multinationals are working hard to pass trade agreements, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would actually dismantle environmental protections.
Absurd as it once seemed, a 1991 quote from the World Bank’s Larry Summers now comes back to haunt us: “Just between you and me, shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging more migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs (lesser developed countries)…. I’ve always thought that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly under polluted.”
And as big business makes its way around the world, pillaging and despoiling, it has the U.S. military covering its back with 900 overseas bases in 130 nations. If one of the countries kicks up a fuss, the corporations can just move on to the next one.
Paul Buchheit is a college teacher, an active member of US Uncut Chicago, founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (UsAgainst Greed.org, PayUpNow.org, Rapping History.org), and the editor and main author of American Wars: Illusions and Realities (Clarity Press).