Monday, October 10, 2011

A Little Question For The “Occupying” Forces

Welcome to the jungle, it gets worse here every day
You learn to live like an animal in the jungle where we play
If you got a hunger for what you see, you’ll take it eventually
You can have anything you want, but you better not take it from me.
—Guns N’ Roses, Welcome to the Jungle

Look, it was fun for awhile.  But this isn’t 1967, the Grateful Dead is basically retired, and life in the free love Haight-Ashbury ultimately turned out to be a dirty, dangerous, bummer of a trip.  So to save us all some time and cut to the chase, I have a question for all you out there “occupying” Wall Street and other places: 

What is it that you want, and more to the point, who do you expect is going to pay for it?

Free college, you say?  As I reported a couple of weeks ago, according to a 2007 study by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, over 70% of households earning $200,000 or more gave money to educational institutions in 2005.  Those households contributed approximately $42 billion that year, constituting over 90% of total household giving to educational purposes. That new science lab on campus—probably built with a donation from a rich person (that’s why they tend to have names like the Herman Munster Chemistry Hall). 

How much more, exactly, do you expect them to give you?

Free health care?  Over 70% of households earning $200,000 or more gave money to healthcare charities in 2005.  Those households contributed $17.8 billion that year, constituting approximately 80% of all household giving to healthcare institutions.  That hospital up the block—probably built with a donation from a rich person.  

How much more, exactly, do you expect them to give you?

You want an end to “corporate greed?”  According to a 2010 survey by The Chronicle of Philanthropy, the top 25 corporate charitable cash donors alone gave away $2.9 billion in 2009.  That list includes giant banks like Bank of America (#2— $209,000,000), Wells Fargo (#3— $202,000,000), J.P. Morgan Chase (#11— $104,000,000), and Citigroup (#12— $94,000,000).  It includes Wall Street securities firms such as Goldman Sachs (#19— $69,000,000) and Morgan Stanley (#22— $61,000,000).  It includes the three largest domestic oil companies, Exxon (#5— $187,000,000), Chevron (#7— $145,000,000), and ConocoPhillips (#13— $80,000,000).  The top 50 corporate cash donors gave away $3.8 billion.  This expanded group includes insurance companies like UnitedHealth Group (#31— $46,000,000), Prudential (#41— $28,000,000), Nationwide Mutual (#42— $28,000,000), Allstate (#44— $25,000,000), and State Farm (#50— $21,000,000).  These fourteen representatives from the industries you most love to hate—banking, stocks, oil & gas, and insurance—by themselves gave away over 1.3 billion dollars in 2009 alone.

How much more, exactly, do you expect them to give you?

But, you say, they make sooo much profit.  Well, yes, they make profits.  But recall that that’s what they’re there for.  A corporation’s sole reason for existence in the first place is to generate profits for its shareholders.  Without a profit incentive, no one would invest their money in a business, and the corporation wouldn’t exist.  And there’s that pesky thing about jobs.  Jobs, jobs, jobs. You and Obama say you want jobs.  Well, my friends, unless you work for the government, corporations are where the jobs are.  The same fourteen corporations discussed above employ over 1.6 million people between them.  Why?  Because they need those employees to produce the product or provide the service they sell—once again—for profit.  If there are no profits, the corporations won’t make the widget or perform the task, and thus have no need for employees.  No profits, no jobs.

People, not profits.

You want to help people?  Profit motive is what built this country.  Without profits and the corporations they spawn, your life would be unrecognizable.
  •  Like your iPad?  That would be made by Apple, which Steve Jobs would never have started without the possibility of making a profit.
  • Do you read at night?  Unless you have a permanent bonfire—careful about your carbon emissions with that—you’ll be needing electric light, which traces itself to Thomas Edison and General Electric, which, again, wouldn’t exist without the possibility of making a profit.
  • How are you getting together with your friends?  Well, if it’s by cell phone, I assume you’ll be thanking Alexander Graham Bell, who would never have pioneered telecommunications and created what became AT&T without the possibility of making a profit.
  • On the Pill?  That was developed by Searle & Co.  Do you or someone you love take Lipitor to help deal with high cholesterol?  It was invented by Pfizer.  How about Nexium for acid reflux?  Invented by AstraZeneca.  Maybe Allegra?  Invented by Sepracor and now sold by Sanofi-Aventis.  Or what about Maraviroc as part of a cocktail for HIV treatment?  Pfizer again.  None of these drugs would exist without these corporations created for the purpose of making a profit.
  • Are those Birkenstocks on your feet, and a Red Bull in your hand?  Is that a pack of Marlboros in your bag?


Maybe you can get your weed from a non-profit organic collective—somehow I doubt it—but virtually everything else about your modern existence is made possible by corporations that do what they do for profit, and that wouldn’t exist otherwise.  And the truth is unless you live in a twig hut in a National Park and sew your clothes out of fabric you've woven from your own hair, you seem to be perfectly comfortable reaping the benefits of what corporate profiteering has wrought. 

One begins to suspect that your problem—to the extent you can articulate it at all (I guess now we know what it is “community organizers” actually do)—isn’t really with corporations, or profit.  It’s that you want it all, but you don’t want to pay for it.  You’ve spent your entire life with Mom & Dad providing for everything, and you can’t handle being an adult on your own.  Mostly, it’s that you see someone else has something you want, but you have no interest in applying yourself as they did and doing the work to earn it.

My advice to you:  get a haircut, take a shower, and put on a belt.

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