“[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 destroy the Republic and substitute a social democracy.”—Clarence Martin, president of the American Bar Association, 1933
In the Public Interest’s executive director Donald Cohen is the coauthor of a new book, now available in many bookstores, that’s been described as “A welcome user’s guide to maneuvering the thicket of lies that constitutes so much discourse today,” “a crucial tool to combat more than a century of corporate disinformation,” and, well, “a bathroom book.”
In some ways, Corporate Bullsh*t: Exposing the Lies and Half-Truths That Protect Profit, Power, and Wealth in America is a breezy read, featuring some of the more outrageous claims that corporate leaders have shoveled out over the last 100 years—whether extolling the virtues of child labor or the horrors of Social Security. Quotations from Ronald Reagan, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Lee Iacocca, the RJ Reynolds tobacco company, and many others reveal a mindset bent on twisting public opinion with spurious claims and outright lies. These are a century’s worth of the greatest hits of “alternative facts,” corporate style. But it has a serious point to make.
This is how Donald Cohen explains how the idea of the book came about:
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.
The accumulation presented in Corporate Bullsh*t paints a more complete picture of the way corporations get their story out, truth be damned. The authors collected scores of quotes and began realizing they fit into a half-dozen responses that are almost like a corporate version of the Six Deadly Sins (because corporations are so efficient, they don’t need all seven): it’s not a problem; the free market knows best; it’s not our fault, it’s your fault; it’s a job killer; you’ll only make it worse; it’s socialism (the quote that begins this checks this box). Once you’re familiar with this pattern, you’ll begin to recognize it as it happens.
The Daily Show co-creator Lizz Winstead summed up the book’s tone and purpose pretty well.
“It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so sad: Corporate Bullsh*t traces how the wealthy and powerful have used the same tired excuses for centuries, to defend outrages from slavery to coal-mining deaths to unequal pay for women, through the current deadly threat of fossil-fueled climate disaster. The examples will make you laugh, and make you angry—and then make you act!”
You shouldn’t buy corporate BS—but you should buy Corporate Bullsh*t.
Note: The official date of publication is October 31, but many bookstores already have copies available—a pre-Halloween treat.