An analysis of America’s political systems, economic systems, and overall health of the population, based in General Systems Theory. The subcategories point to historical evidence for each arc in the system, along with evidence from the daily news.
This analysis starts with the sad state of American Health, and works back to the Corporate Conglomerates who benefit from that situation — not that because they have incentive to perpetuate it, but because they have no incentive to rectify it. Along the way, we examine the operation of American Government, and the mechanisms of American Politics.
The high level view looks like this:
In that diagram:
- Large bold arrows represent strong influences, while small arrows depict weak influences.
- Solid arrows, in general represent money or a direct influence. Dotted, truncated arrows represent the limited, indirect influence of citizens in general, and reformers in particular.
- Most arrows produce an increase in the target of the arrow. Others (labeled “reduces”), produce a decrease.
Working clockwise around the diagram, the situation in summary is this:
|American Health||Worst in the world||Corporate wealth||Ineffective government|
|American Government||Ineffective in ways that matter||Systemic health problems||Lack of funding, lack of regulation|
|American Politics||Dominated by $$||De-funded government||Corporate donations|
|Corporate Conglomerates||5 major conglomerates, each company is a “donor”||Disease and obesity||Huge profits from foods and “medicines”|
The high-level view above wasn’t created from thin area. It emerged from months of research and analysis. Over the course of those months, what started as a single book on “why we need to take the money out of politics” grew into what could easily have been (and may one day yet become), a 9-volume series examining each subsystem in detail.
Examining the systems in greater detail reveals a network of interlocking subsystems:
Both the physical and economic health of average Americans is affected.
From cradle to grave, on every single statistic related to health, America ranks worst among all industrial nations:
- Highest levels of obesity
- Highest levels of diabetes
- Highest levels of heart disease
- Highest levels of cancer
- Highest levels of infant mortality
- Lowest longevity — and even worse now, for our children, than it is for us.
Those statistics, in turn, can be traced to:
- Ingestible toxins that food producers are allowed to inject into our food supply, as written up in What’s Wrong with American Foods?
- Environmental toxins used by agribusiness, further contaminating the food supply.
- Environmental toxins that pollute the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the ground our children play in — and that we grow food in.
The bigger problem is that each of those impacts also increases profits:
- The toxic ingredients in the food supply are cheaper, or promote shelf life, or both, so they are more profitable.
- Toxins used by agribusiness produce higher yields, while the lowered food quality goes largely unnoticed, so they are also more profitable.
- Cleaning up environmental toxins is expensive,so avoiding the need to do so is clearly more profitable.
Now, increased profitability is not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself. But when it impacts American Health, and when those problems also increase corporate profits, the result is a system in which no one has incentive to solve problems like cancer — a problem which is much easier to prevent than it is to cure.
Meanwhile, we know that the problem of cancer is preventable. We know that by virtue of the simple fact that every industrial nation in the world, and all non-industrial nations, have lower rates of cancer.
Learn more: The Politics of Health Book Project, Book 1: The Poisoning of America
Failure to prevent the problems, in turn, produces a need to pay for solutions. But it is the American citizens themselves who foot the bill — not the corporations who caused the problem, nor the ones the profit from the problems, and not the government that could have acted to prevent the problems.
Instead, average Americans pay for the diseases created by the toxic environment they live in. And mostly as result of those expenses, the American middle class has been shrinking at the rate of a million people a year, ever since the early 1990’s. (That statistic was reported around 2003. The rate has undoubtedly accelerated, since then — most especially in 2008, when during the great Economic Bust produced by the so-called “masters of the universe” on Wall Street.)
There is more in the final section of this article about the direct impact of major corporations on the livelihood and economic well-being of average Americans: Economic Health (reprise)
American QUALITY OF LIFE
Not shown in the diagram is the impact of corporate activity on quality of life. Americans are working longer now than they did in the 1950’s. At a time when European workers are taking in excess of month of vacation time every year, many Americans don’t take as much as two weeks. They are working longer hours, as well, and their real purchasing power has been declining since the 1950’s.
And Americans have somehow been persuaded to be proud of that fact. The average American worker is proud to be part of the most productive workforce in the world — even though the average American benefits the least from the arrangement.
Given the astounding advances in technology, the average American should be working less. But instead, people are working more. How does that figure?
When I was a kid, my mother was a secretary. She went into the manager’s office with her steno pad, and took dictation. Then she went to the typewriter, put in some carbons, and typed it up. Back to the manager for a review. Make corrections. Repeat. Get a signature. Fold up the letter, put it an envelope. Address the envelope, put a stamp on it, and drop it in the mail. So an hour or two to prepare the letter, and two days for it to be delivered. These days, the same manager types an email in minutes, and it is delivered in seconds.
In those days (the 1950’s), spreadsheets were done by hand. It took 3 months for company to work the numbers and do the cross-checks necessary to ensure that the results were correct. So every quarter, the executives knew right where their company was three months ago! (Imagine steering a ship if the only information you had was where it was three hours ago!)
But if people can do more now than ever before, why are they still working the same hours? (Even longer hours, in fact!) And why is it that their actual purchasing power is lower? Company owners clearly derive a significant benefit from that arrangement, but the average worker benefits not at all! In fact, many families find that both partners have to work, just to make ends meet!
In a day and time when we know that stress causes disease, the situation is simply unconscionable. Americans are working longer hours, so they have fewer hours to relax. They exercise less as a result, and don’t have significant “downtime” in the form of vacations. In addition, they’re in too big a hurry to eat slowly-prepared, healthy foods. Instead, they gorge on health-destroying “fast” foods. They take stimulants to stay productive, so they can keep their job, and take sleeping pills so they can rest at night.
It is no wonder that America has the lowest standard of health among all industrial countries, on every measure of health there is.America has the LOWEST standard of health, on every POSSIBLE measure. Click To Tweet
As I wrote in America’s REAL Corporate Tax Rate, America has the lowest effective tax rate of all industrial nations. Effectively de-funded by corporate tax evasion:
- The IRS can’t hire the best and brightest, and can’t effectively audit large corporations.
- The Securities and Exchange Commission can’t effectively investigate irregularities on Wall Street.
- The government can’t invest in fundamental research that produces real, long-term benefits for American Health (for example, a healthy tomato that grows wild, or improving fertilizers with compost).
- That leaves short-term, profit-producing research funded by drug companies and agribusiness (a tomato that can withstand stronger pesticides, to further improve profits at the expense of the environment, that tastes great so it sells, but without improving it’s nutritional content).
So lack of funding prevents effective enforcement of the existing set of regulations, which is too large, and byzantine (granted), but necessary in some form nonetheless.
As mentioned in Where Marx Went Wrong, responsible corporations welcome adequate regulations. With good regulations, a corporation can “do the right thing”, without placing themselves at a competitive disadvantage.
But corporate influence on politics has resulted into much worse legislative effects:
- Repeal of the regulations separating solid & secure investments (banks) and speculative investments (stocks), as evidenced by brokerages offering checking accounts in the 90’s and banks making increasingly speculative “bets” on the economy — regulations that were put in place after the Great Depression, the repeal of which led directly to the Economic Bust of 2008.
- Repeal of regulations on corporate mergers and acquisitions, allowing conglomerates to grow ever larger and more influential.
- Failure to restrict the more pernicious toxins in the food supply and environment produces chronic disease and obesity.
- The FDA, which is empowered to act in cases of acute harm (severe poisoning with immediate consequences), never has its charter revised so it can act in cases of chronic harm (slow poisoning with long-term consequences).
In Political Reforms America Needs and Taking the Money Out of Politics I outline the problems that the American political system faces. In the description of the Social Media Voting Advice system I propose, I outline the only possible solution for those problems, and provide further motivation for the need (assuming that any further motivation is necessary!)
The fact of the matter is that the American political system is more likely to address the needs of corporations than it is to address the needs of its own citizens. The situation looks like this:
- Advertising is required to get media coverage.
- Advertising is even more expensive during elections, so winning requires money.
- Corporations provide a lot more money than citizens.
- Legislators are therefore required to placate corporate lobbyists.
- Lobbyists, in fact, write 90% of the legislation that Congress votes on — legislation that often hasn’t even been read by the legislator who proposed it!
- Once the Republican Party effectively took control in the 90’s, the Democratic Party changed it’s policy to allow corporate contributions.
- Ever since then, the Democratic Party has been just another wing of the Big-$$ Party. Members of the Democratic differ from Republicans on social issues but, on economic issues, they vote Big-$$ all the way.
The Five Big Conglomerates
While researching American economic activity, the number “5” kept coming up:
- Five major food producers
- Five major agribusiness corporations
- Five major financial institutions
- Five major banks
- Five major brokerages handling all of our 401ks
- Five major drug companies
- Five major media corporations
- Together, they own every major news outlet in the country.
- A candidate who does not advertise is not covered, so you only hear about candidates who have taken huge campaign contributions.
After a while, it occurred to me that the repetition of the number was not a coincidence. It seems obvious, in fact, that:
- Five corporations in any category is a large enough number to forestall any appearance of a monopoly, while still small enough to allow for collusion when necessary — for example, to enact profitable legislative changes.
- Each one of the five in any given category is part of a larger conglomerate. There are, therefore, five major conglomerates, each of which is a collection corporations that span the entire range of economic activity.
That fact by itself, would not be alarming. But in America, a corporation is seen as a “person” in the eyes of the law. And, as a “person”, they have a right to “free speech”. And that “speech” consists of huge contributions to political campaigns.
There are a lot of quotation marks in the previous paragraph, for the very good reason that the terms are misapplied! Because corporations are treated as people, they are allowed to make the contributions that effectively warp the American political system.
The problem is made worse by the fact that while some corporations make money at both ends of the American Health problem. As has been noted, food producers, agribusiness, and environmental polluters make money in ways that cause obesity and disease. But there are also huge profits to be made at the other end, from the resulting problems:
- Books and diet programs address the resulting epidemic of obesity.
- Doctors and hospitals make enormous sums treating the epidemic of chronic diseases.
- Drug companies make a fortune selling drugs that treat symptoms, or that help to “manage” a non-lethal condition, while often doing little to effect an actual cure. (A non-lethal problem that can be “controlled” by prescription for the duration of a patient’s lifetime is the holy grail of drug-company research.)
- The doctors, whose educational institutions have largely been paid for by drug companies, prescribe those drugs at the drop of a hat — at times in complete ignorance of alternative protocols that may be equally effective, and which often should be tried first in any case, due to their complete lack of side effects. (For more, see What’s Wrong with Modern Medicine?.)
The problem, of course, is that all the money is being fed into the same conglomerate. So one hand gets money from causing a problem, while the other hand gets money for dealing with the results. Both hands, meanwhile, are free to interfere in the American political system, which further compounds the problem.
Learn more: The Politics of Health Book Project, Book 2: The Betrayal of American Values
Political “Blind Eye”
By virtue of our accounting system, meanwhile, politicians are either deluded into believing — or allowed to pretend — that everything is just fine. Because all of the money spent on “health care” (“disease treatment”, more accurately) is counted as a positive contribution to America’s economic health.
So while average Americans go bankrupt paying for disease treatment, and drop out of the middle class as result, it’s all okay — because we can look at our GDP and claim that our economy is “growing“!
If the money was accounted for accurately, though, the picture would tell a very different story:
- Costs of acute care should not count towards GDP.
Emergency room visits and the like may have been caused by poor working conditions for example (which would be a negative), but since people are put back on their feet, it’s a positive. Let’s define “acute care”, therefore, as any treatment that restores a person’s full health. And let’s assume that the negatives and positives offset each other.
- Costs of chronic care should subtract from GDP.
When chronic, long-term care is required for an on-going health condition, that situation must be considered as an overall negative. It most certainly is a negative from the standpoint of American health. It therefore makes no sense to treat it as a positive for the American economy. All such expenses should be subtracted from America’s GDP.
American Economic Health (reprise)
But it gets worse for the average American. In Europe, a Board of Directors is required to include employees and members of the local community. As Richard Wolfe so rightly points out, those people would not willingly vote to send their jobs overseas, or to give an executive a huge bonus for “downsizing” the company — in other words, increasing profits by telling the people who built the company that they are now “on their own”.
In countries like Germany, in fact, a company is not allowed to go out of business while it still still has money in the bank to pay employees! It certainly can’t take the money and run, socking it into a safe haven to avoid even paying taxes on it.
So the economic health of average American is impacted in multiple ways:
- Jobs go overseas.
- People are replaced by machines.
- High-paying career jobs are replaced by part-time jobs with zero benefits.
- Corporate executives sit on each others’ Board of Directors, and vote themselves exorbitant sums while the average American goes wanting.
- The average American pay most of the costs of their health care and/or insurance.
- AND they pay for their own education, child care, and to a large extent, retirement.
Deeper Explanations and Evidence
The main page in each of the sections gives a more detailed overview of that collection of subsystems. Articles in each category, meanwhile, provide additional explanations and evidence.
|Main Page||List of Articles (category)|
(physical & economic)
(health, environment, & economy of the average American)
|American Government||Government Systems|
|American Politics||Political Systems|
|Conglomerate Corporations||Corporate Systems|
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