Corporate Predators

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Introduction by Ralph Nader

For the past twenty years, after a decade and a half of populist resurgence against corporate abuses by consumer, environmental, women's rights and civil rights forces, big business has been on a rampage to control our society. Whether these business supremacies are called corporatization, commercialism, monopolies or the corporate state, the overall concentration of power and wealth in ever fewer multinational corporate centers is a matter of record.

In arena after arena -- government, workplace, marketplace, media, environment, education, science, technology-- the dominant players are large corporations. What countervailing forces that our society used to depend upon for some balance are not in retreat against the aggressive expansion of corporate influence far beyond its traditional mercantile boundaries?

The enlarged power that corporations deploy to further increase their revenues and socialize their costs comes from many sources -- old and new. Roughly eighty percent of the money contributed to federal candidates come from business interests. The mobility to export capital has given transnational companies major leverage against local, state and federal officials, not to mention against organized and unorganized labor. The swell of corporate welfare handouts has reached new depths. The contrived complexity of many financial and other services serves to confuse, deplete and daunt consumers who lose significant portions of their income in a manipulative marketplace. Alliances, joint ventures and other complex collaborations between should-be competitors have made a mockery of what is left of antitrust enforcement.

The opportunities to control or defeat governmental attempts for corporate accountability that flow from transcending national jurisdictions into globalized strategies to escape taxation and pit countries and their workers against one another appear to be endless. The autocratic systems of governance called GATT and NAFTA reflect to the smallest detail ways that giant corporations wish to control the world. These firms are on a collision course against democratic processes, and the merging of states and businesses, to the latter's advantage, weakens relentlessly both the restraints of the law and the willingness of legislators to do anything about it.

Taken together, the world is witnessing its subjugation to the large corporate model of economic development, the large corporate model of technology and the large corporate model of culture itself. These accelerating trendlines invite accelerating comprehension and response. History demonstrates that commercialism knows few boundaries that are not externally imposed. All the major religions have warned their adherents against the excesses of commercial value systems, albeit with different languages, images and metaphors.

Specific descriptions of corporate misbehavior do nourish proper generalizations that in turn lead to more just movements and practices. Here, columnists Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman provide a distinct service in Corporate Predators. It is not just the versatility of their writings -- covering bribery, pollution, corporate crime, fraud and abuse, failure of law enforcement, union-busting, the mayhem inflicted by product defects and toxics, the deep gap between the rich and the rest of America, corporate front groups, the media censorship and self-censorship, the profiteering, the pillaging overseas and more-- but it is also the impact on the reader that comes from aggregating evidence. Our country does not collect statistics on corporate crime the way it does on street crime. For it to do so would begin to highlight a little-attended agenda for law enforcement and other corporate reforms. Neither Congress nor the White House and its Justice Department have made any moves over the years to assemble from around the country the abuses of corporations in quantifiable format so as to drive policy.

So, description -- accurate, representational description -- must now suffice. As the editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter (Mokhiber) and the editor of the Multinational Monitor (Weissman), the authors know well the difference between anecdotes that are illustrative and that are idiosyncratic. This volume of their weekly columns carries the evidence that illustrates patterns of continuing corporate derelictions, not lonely deviations from a more congenial norm.

The authors' experience over the years with the impact of disclosures has led them to the conclusion that the facts must be linked to civic engagement and democratic activity for change. If disclosure produced its own dynamic imperatives for change, the recurrent exposure of corporate abuses in such mainstream publications as the Wall Street Journal, Business Week and some national television programs like Sixty Minutes would have caused these changes. Such, unfortunately has not been the case. The linkages between knowledge and action have not been sufficient. But readers of Common Courage Press published books tend towards citizen activism. They want to know because they want to do. Some may even agree with the ancient Chinese saying that "To know and not to do is not to know."

So, go forward readers who wish to be leaders in the advancement of justice -- what Daniel Webster once called "the great work of men on Earth"-- and savor the writings that will motivate more and more women and men to band together in organizations that build a more just democracy.

Ralph Nader, 1999