Friday, April 09, 2010

Massey Energy and Don Blankenship - Prime Examples of Unchecked Free Market Capitalism

Republicans love to push the idea that the free market should be left unchecked and that it will fix everything on its own. Just leave the economy to the free market and everything will be dandy. This is one of the core fundamental beliefs of Conservatives in this Country. But those of us who are actually part of the working class (like myself) understand firsthand what it means when the free market is allowed to run wild. Working class folks (especially the working poor) understand the consequences of an unchecked free market with minimal labor rights.

29 miners were left to the free market at the Performance Coal Company's Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal West Virginia. Of course they represent dozens of other miners who could have had their numbers called this week. But this is what happens when free market capitalism is left to its own devices. We know that the banking system was left to the free market over the last few decades...and we know the results of that- it didn't turn out so well. The free market, left unchecked, can cause serious problems, both for individuals and for economies. When free market capitalism is left unchecked, women don't get equal pay. Blacks often don't get equal treatment or opportunities. Truck drivers are forced to work more hours than what is safe...leading to dangerous situations on the road. Factory workers are forced to work in unsafe conditions. Health insurance companies deny coverage or cancel policies after customers get sick (through rescission). Homeowners can't get payments on their homes after disasters (Katrina). Workers aren't paid full wages for time on the job (ask those folks from Wal-Mart). Undocumented workers are exploited, cheated out of wages and abused. Workers are fired or punished for reporting illegal activity or unsafe working conditions. The list goes on and on. To put it market capitalism is a bitch if left unchecked. It's clear why companies want less regulations... they want to be able to make as much profit as possible on the backs of everyone else, even if it will cost lives. The fewer rules there are... the easier it is for them to disregard safety, to defraud, etc. Anything by hook or by crook. I always marvel at how the media allows Republicans to push that mantra... when they are really saying that they want to return to the days when there were few laws and lax enforcement for the laws that we had. It's almost as if they are saying they want to return to the days of legal involuntary servitude. And this is celebrated in the Republican Party as something great.

I am not a huge fan of unions...but if one had been in place in anti-union Massey.... in anti-union West Virginia... those miners might still be alive. What is really needed in this Country is a system of real labor laws with teeth... like those that exist in Europe. Then, there wouldn't be a need for unions. Union safety demands should be codified in the law and strongly enforced. Add some social safety nets to the picture, and you would have a fair system. Beyond that, we should be acting more aggressively as a Country to find other sources of energy.

Here is a great blog posting about the background of Massey Energy and Don Blankenship. He represents the corporate side of the Tea Party madness.

Rachel Maddow did a great segment this week about what free market capitalism run amok looks like, particularly in the coal industry. Massey was cited and fined dozens of times, just over the past year. More from the ABC blog, the Blotter. The Upper Big Branch Mine had one of the worst safety records of any underground mine in the Country.

Apparently federal and State mine safety officials don't have the power, nor the incentive, to shut these operations down for good when they decide to flout government regulations. The mine operators know that the process for shutting them down is tough. They have also calculated that it may be cheaper just to pay fines than to make necessary safety upgrades. In many cases, these companies make a conscious decision that they will put their profits over human lives. This is why there has to be a stronger system of labor laws and easier mechanism for shutting these businesses down. Once they know that regulators have the power to bring their businesses to a halt indefinitely or permanently then they will have no choice but to comply. Until then, these companies will continue to play the same game with regulators. If anything...this case shows that even in industries that are regulated...that aren't completely unchecked, corporations will still flout the system...which points to the need to much stronger government oversight.

Unfortunately Massey Energy (the Parent Company of Performance Coal) was too cheap to install the necessary ventilation/fan systems to keep gas down to safe levels. This is what happens when the free market is allowed to dictate safety standards. People die. Yes, people will still die under tougher safety regulations... but the point here is.... more people die under lax regulation and free market capitalism unchecked, than would die otherwise. In for-profit systems where everything is determined by the bottom line and by the needs of shareholders, corporations will always choose profits over people. If left to their own devices, corporations & executives will always act in the interest of keeping their own bank accounts flush with cash, not in the interest of the safety of people. Without institutions, organizations (like unions), and laws.... (laws that are heavily enforced) people die. Laws and regulations are what make corporations act in the interest of people.

No comments: