You hear that cigarettes are bad for public health.
And that asbestos is bad for public health.
And that guns are bad for public health.
And that pollution is bad for public health.
That junk food is bad for public health.
But you rarely hear that corporations themselves are bad for public health.
That's about to change.
A group of academics and activists are starting to push the idea that corporations are bad for public health.
At Hunter College, Nicholas Freudenberg has set up a web site to discuss the issue.
And now comes William Wiist.
Wiist is chair of the Health Sciences Department at Northern Arizona University.
Last year, he authored an article for the American Journal of Public Health titled "Public Health and the Anti-Corporate Movement."
And now he's working on a book for Oxford University Press tentatively titled Bottom Line or Public Health.
"There is a large contingent of people who believe there needs to be reform of corporations," Wiist told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last week. "There are many campaigns against individual corporations - trying to get them to behave in a more socially responsible manner. But corporations operate the way they are supposed to operate - the way the laws were set up for them to operate. Any particular corporation may be operating in a way that we may consider egregious. But they are operating to produce a profit, to externalize the costs, as they are supposed to, to bring maximum profit. Their officers are supposed to act in the best interests of the corporation and its investors. So, all corporations are operating the way they are supposed to. And they operate in similar ways. So, why attack one corporation for doing this poorly, or that poorly? We need to look at the underlying foundations of the corporation and how they operate under the law."
Is Wiist talking about corporations or capitalism?
"Some people would probably extend the argument to say that it's really capitalism," Wiist said. "But I'm focused on the corporation. It is a specific entity governed by laws and regulations. And those can be addressed through the democratic process and through advocacy. Capitalism is a more nebulous. Corporations are a manifestation of capitalism."
[For a complete transcript of the Interview with William Wiist, see 22 Corporate Crime Reporter 19(14), May 5, 2008, print edition only.]
Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter.