The title of this piece may seem a bit extreme. Some will undoubtedly brand it as “click bait.” But the fact is that much of our current economy is based on depriving wholesale sections of Mankind the resources needed to care for basics of life. So is this an economy based on blood money? Unfortunately, yes.
We can break the broad general term of capitalism down a bit further. We all “know” what capitalism is about, investing money to get a return on that investment and then turning it around and doing it again. That’s actually a fairly infantile and “white bread” underview of the term. The reality is much more cold blooded.
Let’s look at some basic divisions of capitalism: fossil fuels, pharma, healthcare, food. There are more but these will help make the point.
Here’s an economic engine that has been running over man and the environment ever since John D. Rockefeller got the idea of monopolizing oil refining over 150 years ago. Profits were what mattered and that has not changed even up to this very minute. But the picture today is one of the large oil and gas operations price gouging the public into poverty at the gas pump while denying continually that any damage has ever been done to the environment—while temperature records fall like dominoes. Oil executives brag in shareholder meetings about how they are NOT investing in exploration while simultaneously screaming that the White House is “regulating” them into the poor house. But, they cleared $100 billion in net profits for the first quarter of 2023.
That profit is actually false since it does not include the costs of damages to the environment and Mankind’s future.
American drug companies—better referred to these days as cartels—have been raising their prices with impunity for many years. Eli Lily, Novo Nordisk and others, for example, raised the price of insulin to astronomical levels—something like $700 per month up from $30 or so. Why? There was no new development cost. Insulin has been the go-to treatment for diabetes for a century. It is a naturally occurring hormone that must be supplemented to keep diabetics from dire consequences and death. Yet the cartels decided to raise the prices because they could—and to bask in the glow of spectacular profits being applauded by their shareholders.
This is just one example, there are many, many more that curl your hair or make you gnash your teeth, or both.
The “business” of healthcare—of which pharma is a subset—has been subjected to such price gouging and profit focus to the exclusion of patient health that it boggles the mind. The cost of healthcare to an uninsured person can be staggering. Bankruptcy from medical bills are unfortunately quite common. The not-nearly-repeated-often-enough parable, “Universal healthcare is so complicated that only 31 of the 32 industrialized countries have figured it out,” demonstrates our incredible ability to ignore the obvious. We have gone along year after year, decade after decade, swallowing the vapid excuses of healthcare profiteers with their hands glued to our wallets protesting the very idea that we might want to pry their hands off. Universal healthcare has been branded as a “communist” plot by these same profiteers since Harry Truman proposed it in 1947.
There are two parts to this problem. Price gouging is just one. The other is the fact that sick people make more profits for all sectors of healthcare: doctors, clinics and hospitals, pharma, insurance and the vast array of brokers and middlemen who all have their hands in the till.
We now have the odd fact that a chemical and drug company, Bayer, is also in the food business with its purchase of Monsanto and their arsenal of franken seeds and propaganda on how their GMO foods can “save us from hunger.” In fact, the Monsanto products, especially their Round Up glyphosate sprays, are carcinogenic and have never increased crop yields. But, treating sick people makes money, so why not make more…
This may be a heartless lens from which to view these companies, but history and a massive legacy of harms says otherwise.
Money Over People
All of these industry segments, and these are just a few examples, show a level of short-sightedness that is difficult to grasp. The relationship between a business that wants to sell products to customers should ideally benefits both parties. This is called a symbiotic relationship, all involved benefit from it.
However, the greed factor has come into play and now rules the roost, energized by manufactured justifications like the Milton Friedman doctrine that:
The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase Its Profits. In it, he argued that a company has no social responsibility to the public or society; its only responsibility is to its shareholders.”
We are seeing how this plays out now, as in the examples above. These industries have ceased to be benefits to society but rather have become parasites sucking the life out of their host organism.
And it is an incredibly stupid parasite that seeks to kill off its host.
Utility” is defined as something is of service or use to many people or society. We generally think of “utilities” as services that deliver gas and/or electricity to homes and businesses. But the meaning is actually wider. Food, medicine, healthcare, fuel, all can be viewed as utilities. But when the cost of these “utilities” become a drag on the segments of the population they service, when they seek to extract profits that damage their “clients,” they become those parasites.
Milton Friedman’s justification for greed has become so overused that it is actually creating a subset of humanity that is too broke to be a customer. They can’t afford housing, food, medicine, healthcare, you name it. Thus the rapacious greed exhibited by those who follow Friedman’s BS is eliminating people who can interact with their company. And when they pile up on sidewalks and tent encampments are viewed as someone else’s problem rather than the victims of a rapacious creed.
It is way past the time these practices need to be reigned in and brought under the regulation that corporations and billionaires so screamingly object to. Maybe we should look at the industry segments of pharma, healthcare, food, etc., as actual utilities and expand public utility commissions to regulate their practices. That may not be the right idea, but the continued reliance on the excuse offered by Friedman is clearly wrong.
Or we could simply enforce laws already on the books since the time of Teddy Roosevelt to restrain and break up obvious monopolies, price gouging and price fixing.
Should anyone get the idea that this is a promotion of communism over capitalism, they have missed the point. We need to bring people into the equation to have a successful symbiotic relationship with industry. And the fact is communism does a much worse job of that than capitalism. Both, as they are practiced today, are parasitic on society and therein lies the focus of what needs to be fixed. It is not a question of which is better, neither is.
For the capitalist, it boils down to this: if you are paying as little as possible to your employees to “maximize profits,” and cranking up your prices to nosebleed heights for the same reason, you have ceased to be of benefit to society and have become a parasite. There is nothing wrong with profits. But there is a lot wrong with sucking the life out of society to attain them.
Marty Kassowitz is co-founder of Factkeepers. As founder of Interest Factory and View360, he brings more than 30 years experience in effective online communications, social media management, and platform development to the site. He is a writer, designer, editor and long time observer of the ill-logic demonstrated by too many members of the species known as Mankind. After a long history of somewhat private commentary on a subject he totally hates: politics, Marty was encouraged to build this site and put up his own analyses as well as curate relevant content from other sources.