|Consumerism & Commercialism|
Studies have shown that modern culture - with its emphasis on acquisition of material things - has actually made us less happy than we were in times of far less abundance. Now corporations are slipping their consumption-heavy messages into every aspect of life, even textbooks in public schools. The result is a childhood obesity crisis, skyrocketing consumer debt, and the privatization of nearly every aspect of public life.
Corruption has many faces - accounting fraud, influence peddling, insider trading, and even the role of lobbying and perks-for-favors. This section examines general questions of ethics, the role of money in politics, and white-collar crime.
Almost every industry has an impact on the environment, and rarely is it positive. From the overexploitation of natural resources to the pollution of air, water, and soil, the era of globalized economics is also the era of globalized deforestation, water shortage, spiking cancer rates, and mass extinctions.
Our newest issue category, controversies arising from ballooning executive compensation packages are popping up from Texas to Seoul. CEOs are pulling down hundreds or millions in bonuses while their companies' stock prices tumble, workers get laid off, and pension plans get slashed.
Corporate activity can be bad for your health. From tobacco to pesticides, water pollution, factory releases of toxics and greenhouse gasses, corporate activity can directly affect public health. It can also effect those who work for those corporations, who may face hazards on the job consumers might never imagine: asbestos, mining collapses, failing eyesight and arthritic hands among sweatshop workers, exposure to radioactivity and more are often the unseen costs of the new global economy.
Human rights abuses, once committed primarily by repressive governments, are increasingly carried out in the corporate interest. In the global marketplace, it is easier than ever to hide abuses in developing countries from the consumers on the other side of the world. Energy companies might pay off militias to gun down local activists, factories might poison the farmland, air or water of the communities in which they do business. Most often, the people who do the hardest work - sewing garments, mining for precious metals, building the prisons and dams - are the ones most vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.
Unions, outsourcing, health insurance, sweatshops, pensions - labor issues run the gamut from the dramatic to the relatively mundane. Multinational corporations require massive numbers of employees to make their machinery to run and to make a profit. Exploitation seems often to be a part of business. From the murders of union officials in Colombia, to Wal-Mart fighting on state courts against laws requiring it to provide minimum amounts of health insurance benefits to its workers, modern business seems to be a war between those who do the work and those who sign the checks.
|Money & Politics|
The way to a lawmaker's heart is through his wallet. whether its soft-money campaign donations, corporate jets, or freebie junkets to exotic lands, cash greases the wheels in D.C. and capitals worldwide. Look here for Bush's "pioneers," political allies who get fat federal contracts, and influence peddling of all stripes.
Private, for-profit companies are now providing the services that were once entrusted only to the public sector, which was accountable to the voters. There's now a profit to be made in running schools, incarcerating criminals, tabulating votes in national elections, providing running water, and even fighting in wars.
There are laws on the books worldwide that constrain the activity of corporations. The problem is enforcing them effectively, especially when the people who run the businesses can frequently persuade authorities to change the rules to suit them. We explore the role of government in setting and enforcing rules for fairness and competition in the private sector, and how the private sector manages to set the regulation agenda itself.
The face of global trade is changing. Trade agreements such as the FTAA to CAFTA and NAFTA have opened borders for more robust trade, but often at the expense of human rights and environmental protections. A push is gaining momentum to replace the idea of "free trade" - which generally favors the most powerful nations - with "fair trade," which puts producers in developing nations on a more level playing field.
|World Financial Institutions|
The International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization rule trade worldwide, ostensibly helping developing countries enter the 21st century by investing in their modernization, and regulating trade to allow smaller nations compete with the big boys. But this "aid" often comes with a heavy price. Developing nations are often driven into deep debt, and then forced to turn their public services over to multinational corporations. Meanwhile, trade rules force developing nations to weaken rules on labor and environment in order to remain competitive.