Who’d Kill for Money?

This piece appeared in newspapers in mid-September, 2022.


A clue about a dark Spirit lies in this troubling pattern:

Whenever a big corporation, or an entire industry, discovers that the products that have been enriching them are also killing people, it will choose to hide the truth, though people will die, so their profits will continue undiminished.

Three major, well-known instances:

  • It has been established in courts around the world that the asbestos industry knew that asbestos was slowly killing their workers. But they kept their knowledge secret, and didn’t protect their workers (which would have eaten into profits), instead letting workers unknowingly risk dying a terrible death, which a very great many did.
  • The tobacco industry – as the nation now well knows — conducted a propaganda campaign for decades to obscure the lethal effects of smoking. They calculated that by sowing false doubts about established facts, they could persuade many of their customers, who otherwise would have given up the habit, to continue buying their products. An industry choosing to kill for money.
  • Now comes what is by far the most consequential instance of this pattern: the fossil fuel industry came to know more than forty years ago that the consumption of their products was endangering the stability of the earth’s climate. But, far from warning the surrounding world of that potentially catastrophic problem, they embarked on a decades-long campaign of lies to prevent America from taking actions urgently needed to protect the human future. They placed their short-term profits ahead of the lives of our children and grandchildren.

I asked a friend of mine, who has studied such things for decades, if there were examples of such corporate entities that had not chosen to sacrifice the lives of others to avoid any hit to their profits, when faced with such choices. He said knew of no cases where some corporate entity had chosen to do the right thing.

If it’s true, as this evidence seems to suggest, that every time a corporate entity faced that choice – of whether to put profits over the lives of others – it made the choice to “Kill for Money,” then we are compelled to conclude that this Spirit of Sociopathic Greed permeates the corporate world generally.

It should be clear that we as a society need to transform the Spirit that animates our corporate world. Who would want such a Spirit of Sociopathic Greed – willing to “Kill for Money” — to have much say in how our society develops?

We need to ask: What can be done to make our corporate world one in which the Common Good is given appropriate weight?

A good answer will require understanding what forces have shaped a corporate world whose tobacco and asbestos industries would choose as they did.

I don’t think this reflects human nature: only a small minority of people, I would bet, faced in their individual lives with choices like those the industries faced, would choose to “Kill for Money.” (How many of the people you know do you think would make that murderous choice?)

And if it’s not “human nature,” there must be systemic forces operating that make these mighty economic entities into something so much less moral and compassionate than the humankind out of which they arise.

(It has been my life’s work to identify various systemic dynamics that drive our civilization to develop in ways that we would not choose. The heart of what I’ve got to say can be stated:
The ugliness we see in human history is not human nature writ large.”)

On the question, “What systemic forces put Sociopathic Greed in control of our Corporate World,” I’m wondering:

  • Does this unfortunate evolution begin with certain kinds of people being the ones to rise to positions of dominance in the corporate world? (I don’t think Rockefeller and Carnegie and their ilk would have sacrificed the world like the fossil fuel industry has.)
  • Does the system train people to be prepared to make such murderous choices?
  • Is it because the corporate world developed within a system that’s about competition for markets?
  • Do the self-perpetuating boards tend to push their organizations ever deeper into sociopathic greed as the generations pass?
  • Do people take on a different “self” when operating within the organization?

Can such dynamics be countered? Would it be possible, by various means, to change our nation’s corporate world so that – perhaps decades from now – it would give all appropriate weight to the Greater Good?

No blame. Just a challenge to engineer the human world we need, with a corporate system that cares more deeply about the interests of the wider world, that’s not keeping score in a game just played for money.

And we should note: the problems with America’s Corporate World are not confined to “Kill for Money.” Part of the same corporate world has been replacing American democracy by plutocracy, rule by the Money Power. Citizens United is but one part of that plutocratic takeover, transferring power from average citizens to the already mighty corporate system.

Sociopathic Greed and the Drive for Power of People: these are two historically well-known Faces of Evil.

The obligation to side with the Good against what’s Evil in our world comes with the human territory.

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One Comment

  1. H. Bishop Dansby

    The need for corporations to be moral in their choices, the so-called ESG approach to corporate governance, really derives from the failure of the political system to properly regulate corporate activity. indeed, I believe we talk a lot about ESG today because the Republican Party has so emasculated the regulatory process that corporate leaders have been forced to step up and exert some moral authority. This is especially evident in social issues, such as related to state legislation on LGBT issues, where corporations and sports teams have chosen to boycott such states.

    Business cannot effectively regulate themselves. They need regulation to come from the people, that is, the government. This does not mean corporate leaders cannot and should to be moral leaders; they should be. But it only goes so far. If they lose their competitive edge by exerting moral stands, they will not be around long to influence societal choices.

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