Corporate America's seven basic lies to prevent health and safety safeguards

August 28, 2012 - 9:24pm

As the GOP assembles in Tampa, the Business Roundtable is joining the corporate chorus complaining about the "burden" and "uncertainty" of government action to remove toxic air pollution, stop climate change, stem the dramatic increase of workplace repetitive stress injuries like carpal tunnel and give consumers information about calories in our Big Macs and human rights abuses built into our iPhones.

The Roundtable is a who's who of CEOs from America's largest companies in the energy, banking, pharmaceutical, retail, insurance, communications and food industries. The Roundtable published a wish list of health, safety and environmental "regulations of concern" that their corporate members -- many of whom are big political givers -- want the Romney/Ryan ticket to stop if elected.

What they call "concerns" are actually important health, safety and environmental protections that Americans need and want. Recent polls (here and here) show that Americans would prefer higher taxes over reducing food and drug safety programs and would like to see more -- not less -- regulation of the banks, oil companies and businesses that create air and water pollution and unsafe workplaces.

In fact, the list only serves to mask corporate America's unfortunate silence on the problems we face. The Roundtable is silent on the conditions that created the need for new safeguards and silent on what to do to make our air and water cleaner, our workplaces safer and our economy more stable. For example:

• Topping the Roundtable's list are EPA's proposed rules to reduce hazardous air pollutants from industrial boilers. Should we continue to allow toxic air pollution that poisons our cities?

• The Roundtable complains about delays in greenhouse gas standards for electric utilities and refineries. Are Roundtable members using their considerable political and lobbying resources to urge aggressive and quick action to address the coming global climate crisis?

• The EPA is planning to require lead-safe work practices and building renovations to reduce hazardous lead and protect the workers from lead poisoning in the process. Does the Roundtable believe we should live with lead that is widely recognized as dangerous to our health?

• The Roundtable complains about a number of Dodd-Frank financial reforms including regulation of complex "over the counter" derivatives that helped crash the global economy and disclosure of "conflict minerals" in our electronics extracted alongside horrific human rights abuses. Does the Roundtable believe that derivatives don't need monitoring and that consumers don't have a right to know if our cell phones are produced by exploitation and violence?

• The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires restaurant chains to include calorie counts on menus. Doesn't the Roundtable believe that nutrition information will give consumers the power to make better decisions about what they eat?

These are just a few examples of how the Roundtable and their corporate allies fall short in a serious conversation about government safeguards.

Their constant complaints could be taken seriously if they acknowledged problems, proposed real solutions and admitted that government rules were both needed and effective in making America a better place.

Instead American business lobbies have consistently done everything they can to avoid acknowledging serious problems and to prevent government action to solve them. They use a cookbook of standard rhetorical devices and public relations campaigns designed to avoid responsibility for the pollution they create, the unsafe food and consumer products they produce, the dangerous work conditions they manage and the complex, indecipherable and ultimately dangerous financial devices they invent.

Here's the recipe of obstruction:

First, they deny. Remember, smoking doesn't cause cancer, global warming is a hoax, fats and sugars don't cause obesity and the list goes on and on.

Second, they say it's not their fault. Remember, it's the "nut behind the wheel" that caused auto accident deaths, irresponsible workers cause workplace accidents, and women earn less than men because they just don't have the skills.

Third, they say the free market, not government action, will take care of problems. Business leaders assured us they just wouldn't produce unsafe cars, food or toys since consumers wouldn't buy them, financial markets will spread risk and self-correct and employers wouldn't be able to hire workers if their workplaces were unsafe.

Fourth, they brand every new rule as a job killer. They said seat belts would kill the auto industry, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) would be a "disaster for U.S. business" and the minimum wage will destroy civilization as we know it.

Fifth, they bemoan the loss of American freedom. Social Security was "the end of democracy," the minimum wage is an "alien philosophy" and calorie counts on restaurant menus puts government in control over what we eat.

Sixth, they warn that unintended consequences will actually make the problem worse. Child-resistant caps on drugs and toxic household products would "lull" consumers into unsafe behavior, raising the minimum wage hurts poor workers and clear, understandable credit charges would only confuse consumers.

And seventh, they claim that it just can't be done. Remember, catalytic converter technology to reduce auto pollution didn't exist, nor did substitutes for asbestos or ozone-depleting chemicals (CFC's).

In every case, businesses lobbies were wrong. Smoking does cause cancer; seat belts save lives; regulated pharmaceuticals cure diseases; American businesses thrived despite the ADA; Social Security lifted the elderly out of poverty; higher minimum wages help workers make ends meet; and it turned out that catalytic converters were installed on cars quickly and led to dramatic reductions in polluting auto emissions.

Occasionally, business will admit that government action is needed for businesses to solve problems. In 1975, Henry Ford II admitted on national TV, "We wouldn't have had the fuel economy unless there had been a federal law, and there would not have been the emission control unless there had been a federal law."

It's time for the Business Roundtable and corporate America to admit that Ford was right, end their campaign of denial, delay and obstruction and become part of the solution to America's most pressing problems.

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