There's a crime wave underway in America, but the Powers That Be are getting sore necks from looking the other way. I'm talking about corporate crime. When it comes to robbing us blind, the Armani-clad criminals in corporate boardrooms have it all over the hoods on the street. The FBI reckons that property crime cost U.S. taxpayers $16 billion in 2018. Securities traders alone cream four times that amount from their clients in fraudulent deals every year. And as far as white-collar crime goes, securities fraud is small potatoes. From oil spills to price fixing to peddling defective or dangerous products, corporations are responsible for the costliest and deadliest crimes in this country.
Yet when it comes to enforcing the law and meting out punishment, corporations get treated with kid gloves so soft only their CEOs could afford them. They're all but immune to the criminal penalties applied to regular citizens. Even when a corporation gets caught by its own egregiousness, committing acts so outrageous and heinous and on such a scale that the authorities grudgingly have to haul them into court, they're usually subject to no more than civil penalties and fines. (Can you imagine some CEO getting dragged through grimy precinct hallways, fingerprinted and thrown into a cell to wait for a frantic loved one to scrape together bail?)
Worse yet, they don't often get caught, because corporate crimes don't get investigated and prosecuted with thoroughness, let alone zeal. Why not? Because most politicians would rather try to sandpaper a bobcat's butt than crack down on corporations. Why would your average politico, who was elected with corporate campaign dollars — and is looking forward to reelection with more where that came from — hound his corporate sponsors for any of their misdeeds?
"Hold on," you say. At least these suits aren't killing innocent people with handguns or stealing old ladies' purses at knifepoint. Not exactly — but while 16,000 people were murdered in the U.S. (mostly by people they know) and 5,600 Americans died at work in 2018; and tens of thousands more die at home from deadly diseases like black lung, asbestosis or more insidious poisonings they acquired on the job. And that was before there was a deadly pandemic ravaging the country.
Companies that poison folks with nasty pesticides don't go to prison, because their lobbyists work hard in Washington to keep such poisons legal. Corporations that kill workers on the job — for instance, by speeding up the production line or allowing deadly hazards on the shop floor — get the deaths recorded as "accidents" so they aren't investigated as homicides. And, of course, businesses routinely hand out fat campaign contributions (what amounts to legislative bribery) to any political party or candidate looking for a fast buck, and this isn't even considered a crime. No surprise there, since corporate lobbyists work with elected officials to write the law in the first place. And even if they do get caught, the big guys have all the resources they need to defend themselves.
Of course, Trump & Co., along with a whole army of Gucci-wearing corporate lobbyists, are pushing furiously to pass a law decreeing that corporations cannot be held liable for profit-driven actions and negligence that sicken and kill untold numbers of Americans with COVID-19. This would give corporations cover to push their workers into unsafe conditions with no accountability for the workers' safety or the safety of their customers. Worse yet, this immunity would also apply to the schools Trump and other right-wing extremist science deniers are trying to force open next month.
Here's a fact the Powers That Be don't want us commoners to know: Corporations only exist at the pleasure of you and me. We the People could reassert our sovereignty over these offending entities by altering or revoking their state charters. The founders of our states and nation put strict limits on the corporate structure, establishing our right to set the terms of each corporation's existence. The authority to revoke corporate charters is still on the books of nearly every state, and it's time for us to reassert some of the passion of 1776 by using that authority.
The issue is basic: Are the corporations going to rule, or are we? The defining battle of our era is to reestablish citizen rule over our government, our economy, our environment and our society — and this requires the defeat of today's corporate autocracy.
To find out more about Jim Hightower, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: MichaelGaida at Pixabay