Sunday, September 10, 2006


Capitalism Kills: Case Studies in an Immoral System [PA Archives]
By Thomas Riggins

The free enterprise system AKA the free market, AKA capitalism is an economic system, as we all know, that is dedicated to maximizing profits at any cost. Neither ethics, morality, honor, the environment, nor human life itself will be spared by this system and its quest to put profits before people (and everything else). Here are some case studies of the system at work.

CASE 1. The New York Times, October 18, 2005: "Study Finds Lax Safety Standards at Construction Sites" by Fernanda Santos. The upshot of this story is that construction companies have found out that it is cheaper to pay fines for safety violations, even when their workers are killed, than to follow the law which requires safety gear. For example, Manuel Falcon had no hard hat or any safety gear when he fell to his death in 2003 at a work site. The federal inspectors only fined the company $2625 for these violations-- $21,000 could have been levied! And this is typical. The "Times" quotes B.P. Morelli, of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association (which just released a study of this problem): "The industry fines are considered a cost of doing business and too minimal to effect a change in behavior."

We should note that in the last four years there have been 144 fatal accidents in New York City alone. The study points out that, "The average penalty for serious safety violations, in which severe injury or death is highly likely, is $1,569...." And OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, part of the Labor Department) has only 28 inspectors for all of New York City, Westchester and Rockland counties, as well as northern New Jersey. The low fines and deficient number of inspectors says it all. The government, federal as well as state and local, is on the side of the contractors.

This is not only class warfare against the construction workers it is racism to boot as we find out when reading the comments from one of the trial lawyers to the effect that many of these accidents take place in the "underground" construction industry and the victims are mostly immigrants from third world countries.

The article says "that builders do not feel compelled to comply with safety regulations." This is a perfect example of Profits before People and shows how unregulated (here under regulated or under enforced regulations) capitalism will even resort to killing people to make a buck. They are getting away with murder. The Republican response? Tort reform and verbal attacks on the trial lawyers!

CASE 2. The New York Times, October 20, 2005: "Repeated Defect in Heart Devices Exposes a History of Problems" by Barry Meier. This is a great illustration of how capitalism works in the real world. Company makes defective heart device, makes lots of money, covers up the defect to protect "market share," patients die. The story begins with the sudden death of a 21 year old who dies in his girl friend’s arms. His heart defibrillator malfunctioned (short-circuited.) It was made by "the Guidant Corporation, the country’s second-biggest maker" of these devices. It seems Guidant knew all about the defective devices but "had not told doctors for three years" that there had been "about [!] two dozen cases." Guidant also said the death of the 21 year old was "a tragic event" but the company "did nothing wrong" [naturally].

Last summer Guidant recalled "tens of thousands of defibrillators and pacemakers."

Nice going – these things are inside people – you definitely don’t want your heart device "recalled"! Here is something even better. After the company made a new and improved model they had a problem – what to do with the old defective models it had on hand. It did what any responsible capitalist would do – it "sold older units out of inventory"-- still doing nothing "wrong" of course. Meanwhile, they had another device – a defib-pacemaker combo (the "Contak Renewal") approved by the good old FDA – this also had short-circuiting problems. A couple of whistle blowing doctors close to the company exposed them so now the cat is out of the bag. But this story has a happy ending. "Guidant announced that it had regained more than 80 percent of the market share it had lost as a result of the recalls."

CASE 3. In the same issue of the Times (10/20) Bob Herbert has an op ed piece, "Rain Forest Jekyll and Hyde?" that exposes how capitalist corporations really treat the environment. It is an article about the Chevron Corporation. This corporate criminal has the gall to give out something it calls the "Chevron Conservation Awards." The awards go to people the corporation thinks have helped protect wildlife and the environment, and have educated people "to heighten environmental awareness."

So it would appear that Chevron is trying to be a good corporate citizen. Not!

Way down in Ecuador Chevron is being charged for causing "one of the worst environmental disasters on the planet." It seems the corporation, over a twenty year period of oil prospecting in the Amazon jungle, dumped 18 BILLION gallons of toxic sludge in the the rivers and forest where it operated. Now the lives of 30,000 poor mostly indigenous people are at risk. According to a law suit being brought against Chevron "this massive, long term pollution has ruined portions of the jungle, contaminated drinking water, sickened livestock, driven off wildlife and threatened the very survival of the indigenous tribes, which have been plagued with serious illnesses, including a variety of cancers." Chevron seems to want to finish off the work started by Columbus and the Spanish.

Chevron investigated itself and found out that it did not do anything wrong. Surprise, surprise! Chevron says its sludge "wasn’t necessarily toxic." There are "no harmful impacts" from their sludge. It must be an unrelated coincidence that the destroyed jungle and rivers and the sludge happen to be coexisting with each other. People will get the wrong idea about Chevron because of this.

Capitalism at work. Herbert points out that corporations do pretty much what they like in the Third World, especially in remote areas. The American press doesn’t cover their activities and "the suffering tends to go unnoticed by the outside world." We should keep this in mind when we hear people going on about the benefits of globalization and the free enterprise system.

Stay tuned.

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor for Political Affairs and can be reached at

1 comment:

AEDhub99 said...

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Statistics give us more and more pieces of information that are bound to worry us, to make us react and change something if we can. More and more people and in earlier and earlier stages of their life die of a heart disease. Statistics, only in the US, are extremely alarming:
- Every 30 seconds someone dies because of a heart disease;
- More than 2.500 Americans die daily because of heart diseases;
- Every 20 seconds there is a person dying from a heart attack;
- Each year 6 million people are hospitalized because of a heart disease;
- The number 1 killer is a heart disease.
Although AEDs are not a universal panacea for all heart diseases, nothing else can compete to its major feature, that of actually re-starting the heart after it has been stopped by a sudden cardiac arrest. Under these circumstances is it necessary to ask you why anyone in this world, any family, in any home would hope for having such a device in their first aid locker?

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