Wal-Mart Dominates U.S. Retail Economy

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Profits Over Progress: Corporate Sabotage at the Heart of Our Nation's Dysfunction

Corporations have far, far too much power. But at the end of the day, We the People have more.

The following is based on an excerpt of the author's new book, The Corporate Sabotage of America's Future and What We Can Do About It (Public Citizen & Essential Books / 2023).

It is now conventional wisdom that America is a divided country, with bitter partisan splits over just about everything.

It’s undoubtedly true that Americans have divergent views on many important topics.

But the narrative of a Divided America obscures an equally important and rarely acknowledged truth: Americans agree on a great deal. Americans of all political stripes believe that big corporations have too much power and are weakening the nation.

  • Corporations regularly rip us off with illegitimate fees, monopolistic pricing and windfall profiteering. Americans agree: This is wrong and the government should end corporate ripoffs.
  • Corporations poison the air we breathe and the water we drink, spreading asthma and other diseases. Americans agree: This is wrong and the government should protect our health and the environment from corporate polluters.
  • Corporations crashed the economy in 2008, costing us trillions of dollars and throwing millions out of work, and forcing millions of families out of their homes. Americans agreed: This was wrong and the executives responsible should be held accountable, and the Big Banks most responsible should be broken up.
  • Corporations gorge at the public trough, gouging taxpayers by extracting a vast array of ill-advised subsidies, giveaways, guarantees and other corporate welfare programs. Americans agree: This is wrong and the government should manage our public assets in the interests of the public.
  • Corporations pay workers too little, oppose raising the minimum wage, undermine union organizing and expose workers to dangers. Americans agree: This is wrong and the government should guarantee workers’ rights.

This new book of ours—titled The Corporate Sabotage of America's Future and What We Can Do About It—is about this central fact upon which Americans agree—the need to confront corporate power—and how we can do that.

Americans Agree: Corporate Power is Out of Control

It’s not an exaggeration to say Americans are united around the idea of controlling corporate power.

Why don’t we get what we want? The simple answer to that question is: Too much corporate power.

For just a moment, let’s dive into some of the details.

By overwhelming margins, Americans favor steps to crack down on corporate abuses and protect regular people. For example: • Roughly 90 percent of Americans want Medicare to negotiate drug prices.

  • More than 80 percent of Americans want to end Dark Money—secret spending—in elections
  • In fact, there’s virtual unanimity among the public about the need to transform the campaign funding system. The only debate is between those who favor “fundamental changes” and those who think it should be “completely rebuilt.”
  • Seven in 10 Americans favor transitioning the U.S. economy from fossil fuels to 100 percent clean energy by 2050.
  • Three-quarters of Americans want stricter limits on smog. Even given the false choice between environmental protection and economic growth, voters overwhelmingly favor environmental protection.
  • More than 4 in 5 favor banning single-use plastics.
  • By a greater than 2-1 margin, voters support empowering Americans to sue corporations directly when they violate federal regulations.
  • More than 3 in 4 Americans believe CEOs should be held accountable for the crimes their companies commit, including being sent to jail, because there should be real consequences to corporate wrongdoing
  • Eight in 10 Americans think the minimum wage is too low, and a strong majority favor raising it to $15 an hour (more than double the current federal minimum).
  • Four in 5 Americans support a requirement for paid family and medical leave.
  • Three quarters of Americans want the government to do more to protect online privacy.
  • Over two-thirds of Americans favor increased taxes on corporations and the wealthy.
  • With near unanimity, voters believe there should be increased enforce ment of laws and regulations in the U.S. against corporations.

The list goes on and on and on. Americans believe corporations are causing major problems and they want action.

This is not the profile of a divided nation!

(To appreciate just how astounding all these findings are, consider that only three in four people correctly believe the earth revolves around the sun.)

OK, so Americans agree on an agenda to limit corporate abuse across a broad range of policies, from protecting the environment to taxation, campaign finance to drug pricing and more.

Why don’t we get what we want?

The simple answer to that question is: Too much corporate power. As Americans almost uniformly understand, excessive corporate power rigs the political system. Corporations and the super-rich slather politicians with money—or intimidate them with Dark Money attack ads—and they expect, and receive, consideration in return.

But as important as campaign money is, it’s not just funding that rigs the political system. Corporations hire legions of lobbyists to influence Congress and regulatory agencies. A very substantial portion of these lobbyists worked in Congress or the very agencies they are paid to influence. They are able to draw not only on their insider knowledge of how things work, but on their personal connections with members of Congress, congressional staff and key officials in regulatory agencies.

Corporations understand very well that public opinion matters in policy debates. So along with playing the inside political game, they spend hundreds of millions every year to commission studies, support think tanks and academics, hold conferences, and pay for issue advertisements to try to muddle public opinion.

As important as campaign money is, it’s not just funding that rigs the political system.

Corporations aim to do more than influence public opinion with all that spending. The reports and papers from academics and think tanks lend a veneer of legitimacy when corporations make their arguments to policymakers. And the advertising is aimed to intimidate lawmakers—this money could easily be spent against you—into conforming with corporate demands.

Corporations also bring a superpower to political fights: The ability to argue that almost any measure that might reduce their profitability will threaten jobs and the overall well-being of the American economy. “Make us pay higher wages and we’ll have to lay people off.” “Require us to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and we’ll lose out to overseas competitors.” “Make us pay our fair share in taxes and we’ll lose our incentive to invest.” “Require us to pay a fair return to the government on the public resources we use and prices will go up for consumers.”

We hear these arguments endlessly. They have great force, and not just because people need jobs and don’t want to pay more for things they need. They have such force because corporations have a tight grip on the economy and people and politicians fear their power. This is true even though we’ve seen time and again that when we make corporations behave fairly, they do just fine. In fact, many of the things forced on corporations—from the minimum wage to safety belts and airbags in cars, from safe drug regulation to anti-monopoly rules—have strengthened the economy and provided new profitable opportunities for business.

Dissecting Corporate Power: The Plan of this Book

Corporate Sabotage examines the problems posed by excessive corporate power. It highlights two cross-cutting issues—corporate dominance of our politics and corporate welfare—and it looks at three industry sectors: Big Pharma, Big Oil and Big Tech. These are among the most profitable and impactful industries in the world, each heavily dependent on the federal government and each exerting enormous influence over that same government.

It’s the central thesis of our new book that corporations have far, far too much power. But at the end of the day, We the People have more—if we choose to organize, mobilize and demand the transformative changes that we support by overwhelming majorities.
Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.