Beginning in the late 1800s with the Interstate Commerce and Sherman Acts, antitrust laws have aimed to control the monopolizing tendencies of large corporations. (See a Position Paper by Patrick Brantlinger and Janet Sorensen, for the Progressive Faculty Coalition of Indiana University.
The Federal Reserve was set up partly to curb the growing power of the banking trust.
The Food and Drug Administration, the National Labor Relations Board, and many other government agencies were established to bring corporations into line with the public good. Such regulation of private enterprise has never been completely successful, but it was certainly necessary and better than nothing. From the 1980s on, however, Reaganomics—that is, deregulation and privatization via so-called “free markets”—has dominated nationally and, through the WTO, NAFTA, and similar “free trade” arrangements—is now also dominating the globe.
With the Bush II Regime, “free trade” corporatism is also ruling the White House roost. From GW (Harken) Bush and Dick (Halliburton) Cheney down through the rank and file, the executive branch swarms with former CEOs and corporate bigwigs. At least seven former Enron officers are members of the Bush administration—no surprise, given the Bush family’s close ties to Ken Lay and other Enron scandaleers. The big corporations, especially if they are into oil, energy, and nonexistent “futures” and “derivatives,” don’t have to buy or bribe the government via lobbyists and campaign contributions; they are the government. And just as the Bush Regime is almost indistinguishable from such corporations as Enron and Halliburton, so both the war and the “rebuilding” of Iraq are being conducted as Big Business ventures.
The second largest force in Iraq after the U.S. military is not the British, but mercenaries employed by Dyncorp and other Soldier-of-Fortune 500 companies. According to a Business Week report on “outsourcing war” (5 Sept. 2003), “civilian contractors are handling as much as 20% to 30% of essential military support services in Iraq.” Dyncorp troops are sometimes guarding U.S. troops. At least 13 Dyncorp employees have died in action, though the real figure is probably higher. Dyncorp isn’t saying; it doesn’t have to abide by the official military’s standard of public accountability. And seventy or more mainly U.S. corporations are engaged in “rebuilding” Iraq, which partly means privatizing (privateering?) its formerly state-owned industries and utilities.
The Wall Street Journal has called it “the largest government reconstruction effort since Americans helped to rebuild Germany and Japan after World War II.” But those nations were rebuilt primarily through their own businesses and industries, not through foreign ones. And it isn’t really a “government reconstruction effort,” but a corporate one, both because the White House has farmed that effort out to the likes of Halliburton and because the Bush Regime is about as corporatized as a government can be. This “rebuilding” by way of Big Business has smelled from the start of war profiteering—a stench made very obvious when a Pentagon audit found that Halliburton had overcharged the military by some $61 million for the gasoline it was supplying from Kuwait. A New York Times article for Oct. 3, 2003, headlined “Iraq: Millions Misspent in Contracts,” begins by reporting complaints from the Iraqi Governing Council over such boondoggles as spending $20 million “to buy new revolvers and Kalashnikov rifles for the Iraqi police” when thousands of weapons were being seized every month from Saddam’s armories. And a report for CorpWatch on Dec. 2, 2003 is headlined: “Bechtel Fails Reconstruction of Iraq’s Schools.” In a recent interview on Free Speech Radio, a member of the Governing Council complained: “It makes no sense to hire a giant, foreign corporation to install toilets when a local Iraqi plumber could do the job far more cheaply and efficiently.”
You would think that, because U.S. taxpayers are paying most of the tab for the gasoline, rifles, and toilets, the corporations would work overtime to reduce costs and corruption. But giant outfits such as Bechtel and Halliburton (and therefore also Bush, Inc.) do not operate by such commonsense notions as efficiency and cheapness—except when it comes to workers’ wages and benefits. They operate instead by what might be called Corporate America’s New Golden Rules. These rules aren’t really new, except insofar as the U.S. government is now also following them to the letter. I list the Rules here, with a couple of quotations to illustrate each one:
1. Make Greed the Goal. The corporation cannot be ethical; its only responsibility is to make a profit.” – Milton Friedman.
“We ought to make the pie higher.” – George W. Bush, 15 Feb. 2000.
Make Waste the Second Goal. “We need an energy bill that encourages consumption.” – GWB, 23 Sept. 2002.
“The Defense Dept. cannot account for 25% of the funds it spends.” – Jim Hightower, Thieves in High Places.
3. Cook the books. With Dick Cheney as its CEO, Halliburton “pumped up its revenues on paper—a move…approved by its auditor, Arthur Andersen of Enron fame.” – David Corn, The Lies of George W. Bush.
“There was no malfeance [sic] involved. This was an honest disagreement about accounting procedures.” – GWB on Harken Energy’s cooked books (qtd. by David Corn).
When Questioned, Lie–or Advertise. I have no financial interest in Halliburton of any kind.” – Vice-President Dick Cheney.
“I don’t think people know how great the benefits are at Wal-Mart.” – Actor playing a happy employee in a Wal-Mart ad.
Turn Corporate Taxes into Corporate Welfare. “Even though Enron [paid no] taxes from 1996 to 2000, it received a net tax rebate of $381 million–$278 million alone thanks to GWB’s tax cut.” – Vijay Prasad, Fat Cats and Running Dogs: The Enron Stage of Capitalism.
“Each year, freeloading corporations grab nearly $170 billion in tax-funded federal handouts to help them do the things they should be paying for themselves….” -Michael Moore, Downsize This.
6. Downsize and parttime the work force. “Contingency work can provide the flexible job opportunities many people are looking for.” — Melvin Goodes, CEO, Warner-Lambert Co.
“My concern is not that there are too many sweatshops [in developing countries] but that there are too few.” – Harvard Professor Jeffrey Sachs.
Screw labor. Bust unions. Wal-Mart is “the most sued corporation in the country, facing more than 5000 actions per year…[for] routinely violating practically all employee rights and all of America’s labor laws.” – Jim Hightower, Thieves.
“We have a captive labor force, a group of men who are dedicated, who want to work. That makes the whole business profitable.” – Bob Tessler, owner of a company that contracts for prison labor (qtd. by Michael Moore, Downsize This).
8. By all means use foul means. “This isn’t competition—it’s mugging.” — Jim Hightower, Thieves, on Wal-Mart’s predatory pricing, selling gasoline (for instance) at or below cost.
Many companies “have been secretly taking out life insurance policies on their…employees and then naming themselves…the beneficiary.” Corporate America calls this “Dead Peasant Insurance.” – Michael Moore, Dude, Where’s My Country?
9. When, hopefully, no one is looking, price-gouge. “…Halliburton got a contract, which no other company was given a chance to bid on…. Halliburton has a history of overcharging the U.S. government in previous contracts.” – Congressman Henry Waxman.
“Six died…. Another 175 were injured…. The victims were opposing the 35% hike in water prices imposed on the city of Cochabamba [Bolivia] by the new owners of the water system, International Waters Ltd.” – Greg Palast, The Best Democracy that Money Can Buy.
Try to privatize everything, even water—and war. “Never heard of International Waters Ltd? It’s just another alias for Bechtel Corporation….” Greg Palast, Best Democracy.
“Private corporations…are now the second biggest contributor to coalition forces in Iraq after the Pentagon….” – Ian Traynor in The Guardian, 10 Dec. 2003.
11. If a corporation is tanking, take the money and run. “In the three years before his comeuppance, [CEO Dennis Kozlowski] paid himself $300 million…even while Tyco (which, by the way, he’d incorporated in Bermuda to avoid paying pesky U.S. taxes) was tanking, causing shareholders to lose $80 billion just in his last year of stewardship.” – Jim Hightower, Thieves.
“Qwest’s…officers made off with $2.26 billion….” – Michael Moore, Dude, Where’s My Country?
12. To counter criticism, invoke the threat of terrorism, or the “red” menace, or some equivalent. “Some would like to turn this into class warfare. That’s not how I think.” – GWB, 3 Jan. 2003.
“There’s no cave deep enough for America, or dark enough to hide.” – GWB, 29 Aug. 2002.
13. Treat “free trade” as synonymous with political freedom. “In its economic manifestation, liberalism is the recognition of the right of free economic activity…based on private property and markets.” – Francis Fukuyama, The End of History.
“Entrepreneurship equals freedom.” – GWB, 7 Aug. 1999.
14. Treat white-collar crime as good business. Bush’s “corporate fraud task force was no SWAT team poised to swoop down on crooks in suits.” – David Corn, Lies.
“Only the poor break laws—the rich evade them.” – T. Bone Slim of the IWW.
15. Treat government welfare and environmental policies as bad business. “They want the federal government controlling Social Security, like it’s some kind of federal program.” – GWB, 3 Nov. 2000.
“Our immediate goal is to reduce America’s greenhouse gas emissions relative to the size of our economy.” – GWB, 14 Feb. 2002.
16. Buy (bribe) politicians, and vice-versa. “Show me the money!” – Gov. GWB, on seeing two lobbyists outside the capitol in Austin, Texas, June 1999.
“This is an impressive crowd, the haves, and the have-mores. Some people call you the elite. I call you my base.” – GWB at a fund-raising dinner, 19 Oct. 2000.
Treat government as a subsidiary. “Find ways to decentralize. Move decision making…down and out. Encourage a more entrepreneurial approach.” – Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
“[Richard] Perle used his position as chairman of the Defense Policy Board to solicit $100 million for his security-oriented investment firm, Trireme….” – William Hartung, How Much Money Are You Making on the War, Daddy?
18. Pretend not to be “big business,” just neighborly and looking out for the little guy. “I understand small business growth. I was one.” – GWB, 19 Feb. 2000.
“I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family.” – GWB, 27 Jan. 2000.
. Blame poverty and unemployment on the poor and unemployed. “The intergenerational poverty that troubles us so much today is primarily a poverty of values.” – Former Vice-President Dan Quayle.
“If you don’t have any ambitions, the minimum-wage job isn’t going to get you where you want to get, for example. In other words, what is your ambitions?” – GWB, 29 Aug. 2002.
Treat Life as a Loophole. “For example, there’s the scandalous (but still legal) tax dodge known as the Bermuda Loophole….” – Jim Hightower, Thieves.
“It’s a self-licking ice-cream cone.” – Chuck Spinney on the skyrocketing salaries of military-industrial CEOs (qtd. by William Hartung, How Much Money…?).
Most of the corporate contractors now “rebuilding” Iraq are, I suspect, in strict compliance with these Golden Rules. With Halliburton, they can probably all be counted on to engage in price-gouging. Many of them have, like Halliburton, lengthy histories of bilking their customers and U.S. taxpayers. Worldcom, which crashed in a foul-smelling plume of scandal involving “the biggest accounting fraud in the history of corporate America” (CBNC News, Sept. 9, 2003), is now “rebuilding” Iraq’s cellular phone service. Raytheon recently paid a $4 million settlement for overcharging the government supposedly to cover costs for insurance in its jet trainer program. Baker-Hughes has been charged several times over for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. And besides being caught in 1994 taking parts from damaged aircraft and putting them in other aircraft it then turned over to the U.S. Navy, in 2002 Dyncorp had several of its employees in Bosnia charged with running a prostitution ring using underage “sex slaves.” (For these and other examples, see Steven Pizzo’s exposé “A Band of Brothers: The Rebuilding of Iraq” for Misleader.org, Oct. 8, 2003.) By practicing their Golden Rules on both the Iraqi people and American taxpayers, it shouldn’t take long for the corporate vultures to pick both roadkills clean.
Patrick Brantlinger, Rudy Professor of English, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405.
link: WSF Karachi