Monday, February 14, 2011

Two Little Words and How They Can Pack a Wallop

Part of the success of the Corporate Welfare State has been in their ability to craft messages.

It's more than just Orwellian, where words have the exact opposite meaning, but the use of language that is wrapped in ambiguity. This includes phrases that have become part of corporate-speak or neocon-speak.

"Tax relief" is code for "corporate tax cuts", "choice" is code for "privatization", and "job creators" or "job creation" means a shift from union wages to barely being able to call it a wage.

But the two most dangerous words in corporate-speak are "risk management". Risk management is the process of eliminating safeguards in exchange for a promise to clean up your mess.

A good example of this can be found in Jamie Court's book, How Corporate Power Steals Your Personal Freedom. In it, Court reminds us that this is not about anti-capitalism, and that not all corporate executives can be defined by those who often make headlines. Though he wrote his book before the greed induced economic meltdown, making it in some ways rather prophetic.

Court tells the story of General Motors and their "risk management" policy that resulted in a class action lawsuit, costing the company 4.9 billion dollars. They took too much risk and almost got away with it. Except that a leaked memo clearly laid out the terms of their unimaginable policy.

Tests conducted on some GM models had revealed that gas tanks could explode and ignite in the event of an accident. This prompted a study by engineer E.C. Ivey and the resulting memo entitled " Value Analysis of Auto Fuel Fed Fire Related Fatalities". (1)

What the report concluded was that if GM could install a safer fuel tank for $2.40 per car or less, it stood to save money. However, anything more meant it was cheaper to compensate for the deaths. GM calculated it would cost $8.59 per car to protect fuel tanks in crashes, resulting in a net safety "cost" of $6.19 per car to save lives.

You can see the memo here, that was presented in court. The value of a human life was determined by GM to be $ 6.19. That's "risk management". Instead of protecting the public, who no doubt would have gladly paid an extra six bucks, or even nine bucks, not to have their car catch fire, the Corporation decided their fate for them, in terms of dollars and cents.

Risk management came to the forefront in Canada when Stephen Harper inked a deal with George W. Bush and Mexican president Felipe Calderón, at what was dubbed the Jelly Bean Summit. So named for the pm's remarks when asked about the lowering of our safety standards to meet with Mexico's:

“Is the sovereignty of Canada going to fall apart if we standardize the jelly bean?” asked our Prime Minister with a smirk. “You know, I don’t think so.”

Canada used to have some of the toughest consumer safety laws, while Mexico the lowest, but in order for the trade deal to be finalized, we had to drop to their level, while they were allowed to stay the same. A great deal. "... The Montebello Agreement sets out a plan to coordinate risk assessment and risk management activities across North America."

In other words, standards were lowered, but in the event of an "accident" the corporation had to do their own cleanup. The Listeriosis crisis is a good example of this. Twenty Canadians died because Harper allowed meat processing plants to inspect themselves, and Maple Leaf launched a "we care" ad blitz. That's "risk management".

Corporate-speak also refers to the lowering of regulations as "red tape reduction". It sounds much better than purchase at your own risk, and definitely better than putting a price on human life.

And this brings me to another alarming "risk management" scheme, this time when it comes to war. I posted in December of how the Harper government had gotten themselves mixed up with the Afghan underworld, who had them painted into a corner.

Murray Brewster with the Globe has also recently revealed that the situation was well known by allied forces in Afghanistan, resulting in the U.S. being forced to distance themselves from Canadians.
Canada spent more than $41-million on hired guns in Afghanistan over four years, much of it going to security companies slammed by the U.S. Senate for having warlords on the payroll. Both the Defence and Foreign Affairs departments have employed 11 security contractors in Kabul and Kandahar since 2006, but have kept quiet about the details.

... The records show Foreign Affairs paid nearly $8-million to ArmorGroup Securities Ltd., recently cited in a U.S. Senate investigation as relying on Afghan warlords who in 2007 were engaged in “murder, kidnapping, bribery and anti-Coalition activities.” The company, which has since been taken over by G4S Risk Management, provided security around the Canadian embassy in Kabul and guarded diplomats.
And there you go, the same corporate-speak of "risk management". So I investigated the story a bit and found out that what these agencies do, besides engaging in "murder, kidnapping and bribery", is clean up. This means that rather than having to bother with protecting civilian lives, they go to the families of those caught in the crossfire, and offer money. And we wonder why they want us out of there. Who looks for assistance from a country that is able to put a monetary value on human life?

Which begs the question. What is an Afghan civilian's life worth on the open market? Maybe we'll have to call the Blue Hackle, one of the private firms hired by Stephen Harper, who also not surprisingly, work for Corporate America.

Maybe they have a scale.


1. Corporateering: How Corporate Power Steals Your Personal Freedom and What You Can do About it, by: Jamie Court, Penguin Books, 2003, ISBN: 1-58542-228-2

1 comment:

  1. Privatizing Healthcare will be a thrilling ride for the poor and middle classes

    But this eminently sensible, cost-effective public solution has been resisted by some on the right, who argue that the mandatory CPP deprives Canadians of the choice not to invest in their retirement.

    This is reminiscent of arguments by the American right against public health care, on the grounds that some risk-lovers prefer to be without health insurance.

    Of course, those making such arguments are usually well-off financially, with little risk in their own lives. Still, they fiercely defend the right of the poor to experience the risky pleasures of life without a safety net.