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Corporate Evil

February 19, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

When are more people going to see that capitalism needs to be controlled? I’m not saying we need to have a Soviet-style socialist system instead, just that we need more government (and therefore, theoretically, voter or citizen) control. I hope that should dispense with those who use the old false dichotomy fallacy (if you’re not a capitalist you must be a communist) which many people invoke to try to discredit criticisms of capitalism.

Right, so that’s the intro, now on to specifics. I know that in some ways this is just too easy, but the target of my displeasure with big business this time is the cigarette companies. Mainly thanks to the minority Maori Party there is now approval to get plain packaging of cigarettes here just like has already happened in Australia. But the whole process is being held up by legal and other more insidious threats.

Everyone knows cigarettes are harmful. Well to be fair I guess there are still a few deniers out there on the lunatic fringe, just like there are deniers of climate change and evolution, but few people would now admit to thinking cigarettes are safe.

If any other product was shown to be as harmful as tobacco would there not be some attempt to eliminate or minimise the harm? For example, lead was removed from petrol because of health issues, asbestos was eliminated as a material for building, and CFCs are now gone from aerosol products. It can be done so why not do it for cigarettes?

Cigarette companies know their products kill many people, they know the advantages are far outweighed by the disadvantages, they know their product is addictive (and that is deliberate on their part) and they know the product is marketed (often through clever indirect methods which bypass laws designed to stop advertising) to young people and naive populations in third world countries. So it’s simple really: cigarette companies are evil!

I don’t use that word lightly (well maybe I do if you look at how often I use it in my blog, but I do crusade against evil a lot here!) but I think it fits. Cigarette companies deliberately produce a product which addicts people then kills them for the sole purpose of making money. If that isn’t evil then what is? Even terrorists are motivated by a misplaced allegiance to a religious or political cause rather than just easy cash. Which of the two is more evil really?

There are counters to this argument, of course. First there is the old free choice argument. That is that people should have the option to buy a product even if it is harmful to them. At the risk of committing the slippery slope fallacy I would ask in that case why not allow cocaine and other recreational drugs on the open market as well?

Then there is the free trade argument. This says that there should be a minimum (or in extreme cases zero) level of government intervention in commerce. Well I would say there should be an optimum level of government intervention in everything. Few people really want zero government, even if they say they do, because few people want anarchy.

So why should be have free trade deals? Who are these really for? I’ll tell you who they are for: they’re almost entirely to produce an environment where large corporations can be free to practice whatever brand of evil (there it is again) they want. Cigarette companies want to be able to kill people for profit. Big tech companies want to suppress new technology so that their inferior products can enjoy a monopoly. And all big corporations want to use the dirtiest tricks possible to minimise any fair contribution to society they make through taxes (more on this in a future blog entry).

So I think we need to be extremely careful of free markets and free trade deals. That word “free” sounds very enticing but whose freedom is it really referring to? It certainly isn’t freedom for the majority of citizens or for their elected representative governments, it’s freedom for big corporations whose sole purpose in life is to exploit the world’s resources and people for their own financial benefit.

So if New Zealand wants to introduce plain pack cigarettes and the cigarette companies don’t like it then we should just tell them to go away and sell their poison somewhere else. And if the WTO doesn’t like it we can say who cares what an organisation designed to maintain the power of the most corrupt groups in society thinks. And if there are laws which might leave us open to legal challenges then let’s just change them. And if all of this makes us a less attractive target for foreign investment (or to use the real word, exploitation) then I say great, who needs it.

OK, so let the big corporations in, let the foreign investment in, even let the cigarette companies operate here. But make them play by the rules that all of the rest of us have to. In fact, because they have so much money and influence they should be held to tighter standards than everyone else. And if they choose to go elsewhere there will always be someone else to come along and take their place. Preferably that will be a smaller local company but if it’s a big foreign company prepared to play fair, then that’s OK too.

But they just need to remember Google’s original slogan (what a joke that is now): “don’t be evil”.

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