Hammering the Poor and Vulnerable

There is a reason why, so many centuries ago, every major religion
warned its adherents not to give too much power to the "merchant
class." That reason is still here - the commercial drive knows few
self-imposed boundaries, especially when it resides in large

A cruel manifestation of this singular drive for maximizing profit is
how companies treat those who are most powerless, most vulnerable or
most preoccupied.

Here are some illustrations that highlight the serious failures of law enforcement:

Pre-teen children. The direct marketing to children knows no limits of
decency. Undermining parental authority with penetrating marketing
schemes and temptations, companies deceptively excite youngsters to buy
massive amounts of products that are bad for their safety, health and
minds. Think junk food - loaded with fat, salt and sugar, that
increases obesity, diabetes and predisposition for high blood pressure.
(See https://www.cspinet.org.)

Obesity produces sickness, death, disability and large medical bills.

Marketers are selling ever more violent entertainment, and soft porn
with delivery systems that escape parental review or supervision.
Television is no longer the only route to children. Our fourteen
year-old, then-startling book-Children First: A Parent's Guide to Corporate Predators-now reads as an understatement.

2. The poor. Whether white, African-American, Hispanic or Native
American, merchants make the poor pay more. Loan sharks, shoddy
merchandise, sub-standard food products and inadequate medical care
have plagued the poor and been the subject of many studies and too few

3. People preoccupied by their bereavement are often preyed upon by the
funeral industry. The Federal Trade Commission has an ample file on
overcharges and deceptive practices from the unscrupulous merchants in
that trade.

4. People with rare diseases often require so called "orphan drugs."
Under a 1983 law, drug companies receive a seven year monopoly with no
price restraints on these drugs. Drug companies are also given huge tax
credits for research and development costs associated with orphan

The Wall Street Journal ("How Drugs for Rare Diseases
Became Lifeline for Companies", Nov 15, 2005) called these drugs
"lucrative niches." With no competition, these monopoly drugs come with
staggering prices for desperate patients.

Here is one story of how your tax dollars are being used for
hyperprofit corporate profits. Henry Blair was working on an
experimental enzyme under government contract as a researcher at Tufts
University Medical School. Working with scientists at the National
Institutes of Health, they and he made the enzyme work as a treatment
for Gaucher disease, which swells organs and deteriorates bones.

In 1981, Mr. Blair started the Genzyme company, got the government
contract to make the enzyme which he brought to market in 1991. The
average price was-get this-$200,000 a year per patient!

In 1992, the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA)
(banished by Newt Gingrich in 1995) reported that Genzyme spent $29.4
million on the drug, with much of the initial research funded and done
by government scientists at the National Institutes of Health.

Two years later, Genzyme found a much cheaper way of making the drug. In 2005, the Wall Street Journal
wrote that the Gaucher drug was still priced at $200,000 per patient
each year. The company says it gives the drug at no cost to about 10%
of the patients. For the rest, either rely on the insurance companies
(good luck), or otherwise pay or die.

5. The Health Uninsured are charged by hospitals full price, which The Wall Street Journal reported "is far more than the prices typically paid by insurance companies." This is the case, the Journal added, in spite of an annual taxpayer subsidy of $22 billion to hospitals "to care for the uninsured."

6. Amputees who need prosthetic devices find that the devices in the
United States are very highly priced (by comparison with other western
countries.) Health insurance companies make these products leading
candidates for rising co-payments. This can mean tens of thousands of
dollars from the patients or they go without. These shocking co-payment
requirements are often in the fine print.

Many of these devices also come about with taxpayer funded research and
development. Profit margins are large because of the users' dire
necessity to have them for mobility, for work, for human dignity.

7. Low-credit-score credit card holders. The relentless credit card
economy requiring plastic to buy more and more things and services. The
credit score becomes the hammer. A story recounted by MSNBC's Bob
Sullivan in his engrossing new book Stop Getting Ripped Off describes: "the card promised an attractive 9.9% interest rate.

But there was a catch buried in the fine print: account setup fee: $29;
program fee: $95; annual fee: $48; monthly servicing fee: $84 annually;
additional card fee: $20 annually." Then this clincher sentence: "If
you are assigned the minimum credit limit of $250, your initial
available credit will be $71 ($51 if you select the additional-card

No wonder the vendors call them "fee-harvesting" cards. Who needs
loan-sharks? These credit card vendors fleece the poor wearing a
three-piece suit and sitting in air conditioned skyscrapers.

Such is the fate of the poor or the vulnerable under the boot of commercial avarice.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.