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I’m sick of being shoved around by big corporations. They get to pollute the air I breathe; fire my friends, depriving them of health care and retirement funds; pull out of the community I live in, “downsizing” the workforce and leaving the city it probably never paid taxes to in the first place in a shambles, leading to poverty and further job losses; bribe politicians legally and secretly; and get the best seats and best food and all the skyboxes at professional sports events I can’t even afford to watch on Pay-Per-View.
Worse, no one seems to care. “That’s how business works,” people say. That’s what a man said to me a few months after a large company “downsized” his wife and moved operations to India. The man, struggling with his own small business, had zero anger at the company that had crapped out his wife. He didn’t recognize that his falling-down house and living room ceiling-with-paint-peeling-off- were the direct result of the company’s prioritizing profits. When I offered that such conduct by corporations should be illegal, the man said, “If you regulate them, they will just locate in India,” an irony that was apparently lost on him.
Corporations aren’t our friends. State Farm – along with a host of other companies – “is there,” but it doesn’t really act like the “good neighbor” it purports to be. Most corporations are there to take your money and give you as little possible in return. These days, that’s called “business. “ Most Republicans and Democrats who talk of giving tax breaks to businesses and who proudly call themselves “business friendly” seem not to fathom that most corporations are legally obligated do whatever is necessary to maximize profits. (If don’t, shareholders can sue.)
So screw all else. If the law restricts profit making, some companies just break the law and convince the prosecutor or U.S. Attorney General that prosecuting them will harm America – we don’t want these businesses to fail! Or, companies will adhere to the law – until their paid lobbyists rewrite the law, and the companies bribe (read: make campaign donations to) politicians to get them to pass the new law.
You might have noticed that, over the years, it’s only gotten harder to regulate corporations. Regulate the very banks that drove us into the bailout? Yeah, right. Stop Monsanto from turning our food into Frankenstein’s monster? Give me a break. Stop companies from fracking up our groundwater? Good luck, and don’t get burned when you turn on your water faucet. It’s also only gotten harder to sue businesses. Congress, state legislatures, and our business-friendly U.S. Supreme Court have seen to that.
Look at global warming. Look at pollution. Everyone knows we’re on a bus, headed toward a cliff … But even this metaphor has changed. These days, the company that owns the bus doesn’t actually care if the bus roars over the cliff and kills the driver and passengers and anyone unlucky enough to be at the bottom of the cliff. The company cares only that: the bus is insured; the fuel was purchased at the lowest possible cost (and ideally the bus will go over the cliff when the needle hits Empty); the bus is reasonably fuel-efficient; and that there is some way to avoid paying out claims to the dead passengers’ families. (The company probably included a binding arbitration clause on the tickets, so that’s all set.) The driver? His family won’t sue, thanks to workers’ comp.
The company can be fairly sure that no one will demand too much from it – people will channel their anger by creating a victim compensation fund and hoping Ken Feinberg will manage it. Last, if the company’s reputation takes a dive as a result of all this, there’s a new company name and cool new logo waiting in the wings. (Remember ValueJet, the airline that crashed a jet into a Florida swamp in 1996? Think about it whenever you board AirTran.)
Anyway, I’m sick of being on the receiving end of all this, so I’ve incorporated myself. Now I do all I can legally to maximize my own profit – which we will here define as money and pleasure – and outsource my costs and pain.
Here’s how it will work. Invite me to your house for dinner. I’ll accept. When the appointed evening arrives, I’ll show up, bringing nothing, or at most a cheap-ass bottle of wine. You will see that I brought a bag of trash – better to dump it at your house and use your trash service. That old gasoline and leftover paint I’ve been stuck with? I’ll dump it in your yard, not mine.
You might catch me plugging in my iPhone to charge it up on your utilities bill. I will plug up your toilet, not mine – might even take a shower on your water bill and use your towels. I’ll make sure to fill the two water bottles I happen to have brought. When dinner arrives, I’ll eat as much as I can and fill a doggy bag or two for my non-existent dog. I’ll stay as long into the night as I can, to burn your electricity rather than mine. (“Let’s watch all 15 new episodes of Arrested Development! No, I’m not on Netflix – why don’t yousign up?”)
After telling you that I did all this for you, “like a good neighbor,” I’ll ask for a ride home, with a few detours (I have errands to run). If you get upset, I’ll cheerfully say, “That’s just how friendship works.” And you’re going to just have to accept that you need to put up with my crap if you don’t want me to go find some new friends I can mooch off of.
Walmart says, “Save money. Live better.” McDonald’s crows, “I’m lovin’ it.” Lockheed Martin claims: “We never forget who we’re working for.” Yes, Brian J. Foley, Inc. is saving money, living better, and never forgetting who (sic) it’s working for.
I’m lovin’ it, but are you loving your new incorporated friend? I hope “business friendly” Americans start to understand that this “friendship” is a one-way street that ends at the edge of a cliff.
Brian J. Foley is a law professor and humorist. He’s the author of the satirical financial self-help book, A New Financial You in 28 Days! A 37-Day Plan. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org