My last book, The Privatization of Everything book (written with Allen Mikaelian) draws together all of the threads that make up the work we do at In the Public Interest.
My next book, written with Nick Hanauer and Joan Walsh, comes out at the end of October. It’s rather bluntly called Corporate Bullsh*t: Exposing the Lies and Half-Truths That Protect Profit, Power, and Wealth in America.
Maybe the title seems a little out of character for In the Public Interest. We’re a think tank, after all! What, you might think, does this have to do with privatization?
A lot, it turns out. It’s about how private interests have kept control over our most basic public goods, such as health, safe workplaces, economic security, clean air, safe food, and other things we all need to survive and thrive.
Let me tell you how it came to be.
A couple of decades ago, I led a San Diego nonprofit organizing for livable wages, accessible and affordable health care, affordable housing, and other common-sense policies. I kept running up against the same arguments: “Living wages requirements will hurt the people you’re trying to help;” “It’ll kill jobs;” “The market will take care of affordable housing if we just get out of the way.”
I decided to start looking backward. Did they say the same things after the U.S. passed the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938? Did they say the same things when we passed the clean air act? And then I went down the rabbit hole of all the laws and regulations during the 20th century that made our air cleaner, our workplaces safer, our food healthier, our jobs better, our retirement more secure, and more.
I raised a bit of money, hired a researcher, received a fellowship at Kalmanovitz Initiative at Georgetown, and spent months digging into the archives. I found that the same six arguments have been used for well over 100 years.
Argument #1: It’s not a problem.
“[T]he water that comes out of our plants . . . in many cases . . . is purer than the water that came from the river before we used it.” —Irving Shapiro, Du Pont Chemical Co. chair, 1981
Argument #2: The free market knows best.
“Employers do not deliberately allow work conditions to exist which cause injury or illness. Safety is good business.” —U.S. Chamber of Commerce newsletter, 1973
Argument 3: It’s not our fault. It’s your fault
“The only seemingly feasible means of coping with the childhood plumbism [lead poisoning] problem is that of parental education.” —Lead Industry Association bulletin, 1950
Argument #4:. It’s a job killer.
“The minimum wage has caused more misery and unemployment than anything since the Great Depression.”—Ronald Reagan, 1980
Argument #5: You’ll only make it worse.
“We don’t want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency, that drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives.”—Paul Ryan, 2012
Argument #6: It’s socialism.
“[Child labor laws are] a communistic effort to nationalize children, making them primarily responsible to the government instead of to their parents. It strikes at the home. It appears to be a definite positive plan to destory the Republic and substitute a social democracy.“—Clarence Martin, president of the American Bar Association, 1933
These arguments, many times successsful for decades, were the tools of the trade that allowed corporations to keep and get control over those things. They could pollute the air and water, they could sell unsafe food and drugs, they could pay lower wages, they could keep putting toxic chemicals and minerals like lead and asbestos in our gasoline, paint, consumer products, and buildings.
And they keep saying the same thing today. I wrote about one example a few weeks ago. This book will help all of us see the arguments and give us the tools to respond.
Corporate Bullsh*t is full of those kind of quotes that corporations, politicians, and conservative think tanks said would happen if we passed laws and regulations that we all take for granted today. Like minimum wage, Social Security, the Clean Air Act, the Americans for Disabilities Act, and much, much more.
Here’s what Robert Reich said about it:
“If you ever feel like you’re fighting the same bogus corporate arguments over and over, read this useful book. It will help you respond to every standard BS claim and teach everyone the truth.”
The book is out on October 31, but pre-orders help increase its chance of getting reviewed and on “best of” lists. You can get it on any of the platforms you use or from your local independent bookstore.
I hope you like it. Please share this with anyone and everyone you know.
In the Public Interest