The other day NPR interviewed someone who talked about a report that pharmaceutical companies don’t like. It says that treating longterm pain with OxyContin and Vicodin is harmful. The companies don’t like this because those drugs are big money makers for them. They make some money when people have hip or knee replacements, but the really big money is in longterm pain control, especially since those drugs are difficult to quit.
This recalls what William S. Burroughs, a narcotics addict himself, said about such drugs: they create the ideal customer, who will crawl through a sewer to buy.
This is a literal example of what Burroughs said. There are other less literal examples which nonetheless qualify as unethical.
One of these is predatory lending. Years ago I visited Mississippi to see the blues museum, and spent one night in Vicksburg. I saw rent to own stores EVERYWHERE, an indication that this was a poor town, and that poor people were paying inflated rates to get TVs and other things they wanted. Since that time the industry has evolved. There are now payday loans with inflated interest rates that insure anything you borrow from them will keep you in debt probably for the rest of your life. There are also car title loans which almost infallibly remove your car from your possession. This kind of business paraphrases Vince Lombardi’s famous quote: Profit isn’t the most important thing, it’s the ONLY thing.
Another example is college loan debt. This used to be a manufacturing country, where people could find work in factories and other industries where they could make enough money to live the middle class lifestyle without needing higher education. That’s no longer true.
College used to be for only the small minority that could afford it. It’s becoming that again, but people who provide the loans don’t want to admit that. They also don’t want to tell students candidly that certain majors won’t pay for themselves, and that even those which do may keep students in debt for a lifetime to repay.
There are also people who would do better to become plumbers, carpenters, or mechanics than trying to go to college. There’s not a lot of support for that either. The abyss between the wealthy and the poor grows daily, and the supposed cure for that is contributing to it instead. Profit is the only thing here too. This is such a good idea that many are trying to get rid of public schools so private “charter” schools can drain off all the profit. Maybe all charter schools aren’t predatory, but enough seem to be to call the whole idea into question.
For profit prison is yet another bad idea. What does it take to make prison profitable? Keeping the beds full, which means making sure that people keep getting arrested for things that aren’t that serious. It also means giving them substandard housing, food, and medical care, as well as contracting them out to large corporations and paying them almost nothing for it. This is how blacks, Latin Americans, and maybe especially illegal immigrants (including children) can provide profit to people who care nothing about them. A sort of revival of slavery.
Pollution is another example. Industries are supposed to be regulated to prevent it, but it doesn’t seem to work that way. Republicans (at least some of them) want to get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency, or failing that, prevent it from doing its job. The most recent example is the switch of water supplies in Flint, Michigan, to water that leached lead from the pipes and caused brain damage to goodness knows how many children. I’m told the EPA was at fault in that case. I also hear that water supplied Navajo people in the southwest is even worse. Industries like polluting because it’s a convenient way to get rid of wastes. Who knows how many other water sources around the country are ticking time bombs which will damage if not kill American citizens?
Which brings us to fracking.
Fracking not only uses immense amounts of water, but puts chemicals in the water that the frackers don’t seem to want to tell the American public about. Granted, fracking has made gasoline, among other things, cheaper, and I benefit from that just like a lot of people. But in the longer run, I doubt that very many of us do benefit.
The water is pumped under pressure to break geologic structures that keep petroleum from being pumped to the surface. We don’t know exactly what damage may be done from destroying these structures, but what seems to be even worse is pumping the waste back underground. According to the New Yorker, this practice is what causes the earthquakes that have been associated with fracking for some time. What I wonder is where exactly that waste goes. Isn’t it inevitable that a good deal of it will end up in water sources that we hope to drink from? We were going to run short of potable water anyway in some regions of this country, particularly the southwest. Now what water they have may turn out to be polluted and unusable.
Republicans in particular (and probably not just them) want to deregulate a lot of industries. Why should we allow that?
I understand that there are probably a lot of regulations either unnecessary or which could be rewritten to be more efficient, but simply getting rid of regulations scares me. There are too many examples of industries failing to regulate themselves. Many of them advocate only their own interests, which are not mine. And since the Citizens United Supreme Court decision enshrines free speech for the rich, no one with any profits at stake will be willing to consider my interests. That’s because I can’t afford to pay to have them considered.
In a free country, where do your freedoms stop, and mine begin? For whom is the market free? How many people who own land can afford to keep frackers from buying the mineral rights? Not property owners who are poor. Farmers who don’t run factory farms have high costs, and their profits are far from guaranteed. A lot of them may find it more profitable to sell their mineral rights than farm.
People may believe that pollution does no harm, since it’s convenient to believe that. They may also believe that profit is always good, no matter how it’s arrived at, and no matter who gets it. That’s also convenient to believe.
There may well be regulations that are perverse, but regulation is necessary if we are to continue to function as a society. My suspicion is that a lot of powerful people no longer care, and only want to make as much profit as they can while civilization lasts, and that they don’t believe it will last much longer. That’s an interesting perspective from which to see a lot of profit making enterprises.
I would prefer not to believe that capitalism is inherently destructive not only of the powerless, but of itself. I don’t know if there’s a better system, but I have to consider this one very questionable, at least until such time as it’s willing to reform itself.


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