2017-05-05 / Letters

Let’s start a conversation

To the editor:

Consider the following proposition: at local, state, and national levels, government control (management and funding) of many services and products the public depends on – education, health care, public transportation, water and sanitation, energy, agriculture, scientific research, environmental regulation, public parks, public housing, mail delivery, prisons, the military, and others – is generally more effective and less costly than private control by large corporations. Furthermore, government officials are more accountable to the public than corporations and their executives are.

The push by President Donald Trump and the Republican Congress for small government is really a strategy for transferring decision-making – and profits – into already wealthy private hands, including the hands of those in office. Our current federal government is decreasing public expenditures for health, education, welfare, and the arts; abandoning environmental and other regulations that protect the public; reducing staff for government agencies, resulting in an inability to fulfill their functions; and calling for tax reductions that primarily benefit the wealthy.

Can we trust corporations to manage our economy and deliver at fair cost the products and services we depend on? There are many examples of large corporations, both public and private, that increase profits at the expense of their customers and the public at large. Welldocumented practices of Exxon and other oil companies, Phillip Morris and other tobacco companies, Wells Fargo and other banks and investment houses, Questcor and other large pharmaceutical companies, Volkswagen and other automobile companies – the list is long and growing – support the assertion that corporate control of the products and services we all depend on is expensive, unreliable, and often harmful, even sometimes fatal, to the public.

The practices of these companies are all too common examples of corporate malfeasance: concealment of data that could negatively affect sales, manufacturing of products known to be defective and/or harmful, and advertising campaigns whose purposes are to increase wasteful consumption and to sow doubt about conclusions agreed upon by the scientific community and the general public. (Think about oil companies that still lobby against acknowledging climate change, its human causes, and its dire consequences for our planet, or about tobacco companies that, for years, concealed the carcinogenic effects of nicotine.)

Keep in mind that the primary fiduciary responsibilities of executives and directors of stockholder-owned corporation are to their corporation and stockholders, not to their customers or employees. Officers of a privately held corporation owe allegiance only to its owners.

The Trump administration has already taken measures to transfer government functions to large corporations, and his cabinet picks are further advancing this process. The public will have little or no control over how these corporations operate, whereas public officials are identifiable, more accessible, and more accountable. Yes, there is corruption and waste in the public sphere, but examples of exploitation, bribery, fraud, and distorted distribution of income are legion within the private sector. The public can put pressure on their representatives and vote for (or against) legislators and executive office-holders who serve (or don’t serve) its interests. We have no such influence over corporations.

If we don’t make political choices – like voting and contributing our creativity, time, energy, and money to causes we believe in – we relinquish any control over our social-economic-political environment.

The Supreme Court has sanctioned unlimited funding of election campaigns by large corporations, their lobbyists and wealthy individuals. It will take the resolve and resources of millions of Americans to counteract the slide toward plutocracy. We face a critical choice in our country. Do we want to further encourage the establishment of government by and for the wealthy – or do we want to revitalize a democracy in which government serves and is accountable to all its people? We all need to play a role in solving our economic and social problems and nurturing a country which stands for equal opportunity and justice, dignity, and a decent standard of living for all its citizens.

Comments, agreement, and opposing views are welcome. This is a time for thoughtful, respectful engagement, not for passivity.

Will Fritzmeier South Portland

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