Public Comment

The Insidiousness of Corporate Crime

Harry Brill
Friday January 03, 2020 - 05:16:00 PM

Take a moment to think about your reaction if you and your family were regularly showered with confetti when walking around your neighborhood. Even though the confetti is harmless, the community would be in an uproar and would do what it can to address this nuisance. Yet we often fail to respond aggressively to pollution even when the problem is due to a local source. Why not?  

The answer is obvious. The polluted air generated by a local business plant is on the whole invisible to most of us. Moreover, the adverse effects such as developing cancer, occur many years later. In contrast to street crime, corporate crime is generally subtle. So it is very difficult for the public to make the appropriate connections.  

Even the most recent disturbing development has been barely noticed. Rather than attempting to reduce air pollution, the practices of the business community has resulted this year in an enormous increase in foul air. The emissions of carbon dioxide have been unusually high. These emissions replace the oxygen that we depend on.  

Moreover, bad air is not the only problem. The vegetables we eat are often sprayed with pesticides that are carcinogenic. Indeed, there are many other products on the market that are unsafe. As a result of the widespread corporate assaults, corporate crime far exceeds street crime. Yet the media prefers to publicize street crime far more than corporate crime, which distracts attention from corporate misconduct.  

Among the powerful allies of business is the federal government. It has eliminated many business regulations, claiming it was in the best interest of both business and the public. The truth, however, is that deregulation is the euphemism for abolishing standards, which in turn is detrimental to the public.  

What can we do to turn things around? How do we develop effective organizing strategies? There is a great deal that has been written on this subject. For those who are interested in exploring different approaches, I recommend “People Power: The Organizing Tradition of Saul Alinsky” (Co-edited by Aaron Schutz and Mike Miller).  

One important strategy that is very rarely considered is the attempt to win over members of the ruling class. Before you snarl at what seems like a preposterous idea please keep in mind that even the rich, including spouse and children contract similar medical problems as a result of the air they breathe and the products they consume. Of course, attempting to educate the ruling class would certainly not win over a majority, But it could convince some of its members, which would be important. In fact, virtually no section of the population should be ignored by political activists.