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FatDave Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-24-09 02:01 AM
Original message
Profit Motive and the Public Trust
It seems to me that a lot of unnecessary problems are caused because sometimes it's profitable to do things that are harmful (though not illegal) to society. For example, insurance companies deny care to their customers for the sake of profit. Drug companies fight to extend their patents and prevent the marketing of generics because it will help them profit. Halliburton and their ilk have made vast fortunes from war. Cheap prison labor has made it profitable to keep people jailed.

Sometimes, like in the case of for-profit health care, this just prevents large portions of our society from receiving basic services that everyone should have a right to. Other times, like in the case of private military contractors, it actually transfers taxpayer money to corporations run by CEO's who will take home in six months more money than most of us will make in a lifetime.

Of course this situation arose from the republican "privatize everything" mantra. The theory was that the private sector could provide all life's basic services better than the government could because a desire to make a profit kept private businesses efficient and lean. Rather than have the government actually try to do things, it should just hire corporations to do them for it.

Of course, if you think about this plan for even a little while, you'll notice one glaring flaw.

When it comes to programs intended to protect our society, the last thing you want is a profit motive. You want the sole focus to be on protecting society, not making money. If there's an opportunity to cut corners and pocket more money, the private sector will do it. They are in it for the money, not the good of country.

Here's an example even the most fervent right-winger should understand: Who do you want guarding our borders? A government agency, who will spend every penny of their budget toward guarding our borders? Or a company who will spend as little as possible so they can keep the remainder? Seems like a no-brainer.

Free market capitalism is great for most things. Profit off of TV's, cell phones, soda pop, vehicles, and dishwashers all you want. But health care? No, that will inevitably damage our society. Let the government handle it, because no one should have to be sick just because they're poor.
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99th_Monkey Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-24-09 04:52 AM
Response to Original message
1. K&R a very thoughtful and useful distinction you make...
... between who produces & markets soft drinks, and who provides health care, education, etc.

Thank you. Well said.
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raccoon Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-24-09 09:23 AM
Response to Original message
2. K&R. nt
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starroute Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-24-09 11:21 AM
Response to Original message
3. The harm done by the profit motive extends further
Newspapers have been run into the ground because they were bought up by syndicates that wanted ridiculous profits rather than the steady but modest profit a local paper typically makes. Ditto for the book publishers -- or even worse, in some ways, because their corporate owners have pushed them to look for Hollywood-like blockbusters, at the same time as midlist writers are being dropped or getting steadily smaller advances.

Capitalism was originally invented to be a kind of a crap shoot -- you could invest a small amount of money in, say, a trading expedition to the East Indies, knowing that you might lose it all but that you might also hit the jackpot. Or in a company that intends to build a railroad, which again might go bust or might succeed wildly.

As late as the mid-20th century, most other kinds of business were carried on by small family firms or partnerships, not by corporations that were expected to pay dividends to their shareholders. Both my grandfathers were independent small businessmen. When my father had to sell his share in one business to serve in World War II, and his attempt to start another business with his brother after the war failed, he went to work for my mother's uncle.

Those small businesses have been killed off by the mega-corporations and the chains -- just as mom-and-pop stores are being killed off by WalMart. Slightly larger operations -- like newspapers and book publishers -- have been eaten by corporations and run into the ground. And even the founders of successful new businesses, like so many tech startups, discover that they can't grow without outside financing, are forced to go public, and then find themselves at the mercy of the money-men and their new corporate CEO's.

The requirement that corporations *must* put profits to shareholders ahead of everything else -- or at least ahead of their employees and the environment, though apparently top executives not so much -- is another distorting factor. It means that corporations, instead of being merely 800-pound gorillas, become soulless zombies -- eternal, undead, and without conscience or compassion.

I've thought a lot over the years about what a viable alternative would be, without coming up with any definitive solutions. Socialism has never appealed to me, because making things ever bigger and less responsible can't be the answer. I think the role of the federal government should be more that of referee, guarantor of equal rights, protector of the environment, and possibly provider of research and seed money -- but not that of owner.

I'd like to see a revival of small businesses -- which the Internet is making possible in a way that it wasn't 20 years ago -- and new ways for small businesses to grow into medium-sized businesses without selling out.

I'd like to see more state and community control over businesses within their borders, to ensure that the interests of the environment and the inhabitants are met -- though that would have to be set up in such a way as to prevent firms from fleeing to areas with laxer regulations.

I'd like to see a genuine labor movement again -- but it would have to be organized and oriented very differently than in the past, to ensure that workers retain real rights and real power and do not trade them away for evaporating promises of wages and benefits.

I'd like to see much that is presently done on a for-profit basis be turned to a non-profit basis -- and, in cases like the drug industry, given a promise of certain kinds of federal support in return, say, for focusing on the needs of the poor and sick instead of wealthy impotent old men.

And of course the defense firms are the final piece in the puzzle -- but one that raises thorny problems all its own and is not likely to be easily settled. But at the moment, I'd settle for at least getting them back to making nasty toys and out of the business of processing social security checks.

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Greyhound Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-24-09 02:58 PM
Response to Reply #3
10. Hear, hear!
Small business drives our economy, employs most of us, and fosters the innovation and true competition that made us what we were.

A complete redefinition of the SBA should be very high in the "stimulus package". Direct loans, not backing private bank loans, would contribute greatly to our recovery.

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DCKit Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-24-09 12:45 PM
Response to Original message
4. Bullseye and Well Stated!!! K&R
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tomreedtoon Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-24-09 01:55 PM
Response to Original message
5. Self-help gurus are often right wing Ayn Randians.
I was listening to a tape by Dr. Wayne Dyer. I was somewhat inspired and comforted by his message of believing in yourself...until I heard him say he believed in Ayn Rand, and the people who were listening applauded like crazy.

He talked about how government should do as little as possible, because it spent too much money and was inefficient. He even suggested that customs and airport inspections should be bid upon by companies to do it for the lowest cost. (Shades of the original post!)

This is in the tape "How to be a No Limits Person." Should you want to check it out.

There was another book-on-tape recommended by a psychiatrist. "The Seven Pillars of Self-Esteem" by Dr. Nathanial Branden. I was surprised, while listening to his stuff, to find out that he DATED Ayn Rand for years. The critical point is that he even talked about this. He claims he broke up with her over "philosophical differences," but if so, why did he even bring it up? What kind of man kisses and tells?

Finally, there's Steve Chandler, of "17 Lies that Hold You Back (And the Truth that will Set You Free)". He talks continually about business work. Making money. Using your will to keep you working when all else fails. Sounds like the official philosophy of Dubya - at least what Dubya said in public?

There are some kindly people like Louise Hay who do this stuff. But an awful lot of self-help books are primarily about what you do for yourself, and suggest or insist that you shouldn't do anything for anyone else. Have any of you noticed this?
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FatDave Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-24-09 02:41 PM
Response to Reply #5
6. It always amazes me...
...the way selfish, greedy bastards cling to a 2nd rate writer and 3rd rate thinker like Rand to justify their self-centered greedy lives. If not for their support, she would have been immediately forgotten.
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leftstreet Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-24-09 02:49 PM
Response to Reply #5
7. He dated Rand?

I agree most of these 'self-help' books can be boiled down to a psyop-like simple theme of GOVERNMENT (as in us caring for each other) IS BAD.
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tomreedtoon Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Jan-25-09 12:12 AM
Response to Reply #7
12. And he talked about dating Rand!
Who he happens to hump is supposed to be personal. That he bragged about it is just plain bad taste. He could have said that "we briefly collaborated for a while," but to say that he was in a long-term relationship with a venue where that was not relevant or connected at all...was tacky.
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leftstreet Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-24-09 02:51 PM
Response to Original message
8. K&R
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Greyhound Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-24-09 02:52 PM
Response to Original message
9. Welcome to the ranks of "Radical Anarchist Communists". K&R n/t
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Still Sensible Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-24-09 03:09 PM
Response to Original message
11. It is a good argument and I generally agree
but, I am a little skeptical that taking the profit motive out of the R&D in the medical and phama fields would ultimately be a good thing. Don't get me wrong, I detest a lot about "Big Pharma" and the irrational profiteering they have enjoyed for decades--most particularly the last 15 years or so. But, I fear a slowdown in progress if we remove the profit motive completely.

I also fear the evolution of a system that would severely change the amount of money doctors can make. Obviously, the whole system is screwed up, but if the opportunity to make great money isn't there, are we going to be eventually left with inferior candidates for medical schools?

Naturally, I don't have the answers to an incredibly complex situation. In theory, I agree with the OP, but I suggest that the unintended consequences of playing out the theory could be harmful.
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