Strong laws and regulations, with proactive compliance reviews and stiff penalties for gross business violations, are the best defenses against the unseemly side of our free market system – If only they were diligently enforced.
Let us hope that as the United State’s Senate finalizes the provisions of the bill on financial reform that they will be ever mindful of the great elephant on the floor, wanton greed; and make sure the necessary checks and balances are part of the bill that finally passes into law.
We have had several poignant examples of greed gone awry. Remember the meltdown of energy giant Enron? Seems like a long time ago. However, that was just the tip of the financial corruption iceberg.
In the last year, several long-standing and trusted financial giants had a complete meltdown and were rescued by governmental tax dollars. Later, we saw how the executives of those same companies pay themselves big bonuses as if they had kept the company afloat and had a profitable year.
We may have another instance of what happens when potential profit rules the day. While BP (British Petroleum) is not a U.S. based company, it certainly does a lot of business here. In addition, as we learn more about the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that affects the lives of Americans in an awful way, we are learning that profits might have trumped safety, again.
We are also learning that the governmental agency that was suppose to be enforcing laws and demanding that BP operate in a way that protected our interests as a nation and that of its citizens, they too often turned a blind eye, were too chummy – chummy, or were simply asleep at the controls.
It begs the question how many more – large, medium or small – are out there taking advantage of the trusting consumer, financially and otherwise, all in the name of monetary gain, whether they are American companies or otherwise.
As the growing allegations at Goldman Sachs unfold – descriptions of high rolling, risk taking executives who created and cashed-in on investment deals that they bet against – the tentacles of that scandal could reach so far that, by the time the investigation is complete, public confidence may never be the same. They may have a brief reprieve sine the BP oil spill has everyone’s attention.
We have seen businesses take advantage of a community’s welcome mat by polluting their soil and water supply with chemicals that we know are detriments to human health. On any given week during the evening news or in the local newspaper, we see the emergence of illnesses, cancer in particular, at a rate, which is disproportionate to a community’s size. How can we help but wonder what other environmental and health risks there are in communities across America, risks that may not become known until there is a catastrophe.
How pervasive is unchecked greed in our free-market society? It seems to have no respect of persons living or dead. Remember the recent case in Chicago, where a cemetery sold the same burial plots to multiple people? The investigation revealed that multiple human remains were piled in a mass grave. Was the thought, “Let’s make as much money on this plot as we can? Bury. Dig up. And bury again. A similar story occurred in northwest Georgia a few years ago. There were hundreds of human remains that they should have cremated as far back as 15 years ago, were found in bags, dumped, and strewn near and around the grounds of the crematory.
Unfortunately, there are many examples of unlawful business practices gone unnoticed for a long period of time. Whatever happened to these perpetrators?
Then there is the issue of immigration, particularly undocumented workers from Mexico. Could it be that capitalism’s ugly side is intertwined in that issue as well? Does it come right down to the profit motive once again? Getting cheap labor, avoiding the costs associated with legitimate employees will all improve the bottom line – and the year-end bonus.
Are we at last ready to deal with the hypocrisy around the real reason we do not want to enforce the immigration laws on the books?
It will do us well to examine what has emerged over the decades of this relatively young republic, as the definition of business success becomes more money, more money. Large and sustained profit margins rule the daily dealings. It seems that the basic tenant of a free market capitalistic society is now bastardized with the craze to increase profits – sometimes, at any cost, including the exploitation of people irrespective of race, and socio-economic status.
Capitalism is not about how much money you can make by taking advantage of the unsuspecting or the weak. What we often forget is that the long-term health of any free market society is that quality goods and services that fulfill needs should be priced at levels that are reasonable for all involved. Selling or buying at a gross disadvantage ultimately compromises the free market system and hurts everyone involved – perpetuating economic and wealth disparities.
How do we stem what appears to be a growing tide of violations of good business practices across many industries that we count on in our daily lives? With all the laws and regulations on the books that govern business operations, how is it that we continually discover the various ways these businesses violate or fleece our consumer rights?
If we want a successful and meaningful financial reform bill, we need lawmakers and regulatory agencies at every level of government to proactively enforce those policies and operational procedures. We must close those loopholes that render the public vulnerable to unscrupulous businesses and their penchant for greed. Punishment must fit the crime.
However, the public also must stand up and demand diligent enforcement of those laws and regulations if we hope to get rid of what is rotten in the ROI – that almighty, sometimes elusive, driver that many large businesses will stop short of nothing to make.
How can a free market capitalistic society continue to thrive if such practices go unchecked?
It will not.