Guest post by Salty Current: Not written in the stars

Originally the second part of a comment by Salty Current on Shock-horror: research fails to find Big Danger in GMO crops

[Quoting “The Beautiful Void” @ 14]

Regarding the fact that Monsanto et al are for-profit companies: Of course they are. Farms themselves are for-profit companies, and often ones with dismal environmental records. Medicines are made by for-profit companies too; so are clothes, so are cars, so are computers. We live in a world where most of the things we encounter every day were made by for-profit companies. Where I live, in London, my very drinking water is supplied by a for-profit.

If your position is that all for-profit is inherently deplorable, then while I might disagree, I can’t fault your consistency. However, to say that it’s fine for someone to make a profit on the electricity you use but not on the food you eat? That’s a meaningless distinction and a dishonest argument.

This is mistaken in at least two important aspects. First, people can certainly believe with consistency that some products and services are OK to leave in the hands of private for-profit companies while seeing others as public functions. For example, many people think education (at least elementary and secondary) and fire departments are public goods, but don’t object to cars being made by private corporations. There are many aspects of an “industry” that are relevant to whether or to what extent people accept private control – the use of natural “resources,” the importance to well-being and health, the threat of monopolizing political power due to control of a resource or function, the threat of political propaganda, and so on. Surely you can recognize that there’s a relevant difference between health care and, say, pens?

I’m an anarchist, so I reject private, for-profit control and support self-governance in economic life in the same way as – and inextricably linked to – the way I do in political life. I also see the various areas as being so interconnected that the privatization of one affects many others. But that doesn’t mean I don’t see the greatest problems and dangers as being related to goods that most directly affect health and well-being, environmental destruction, and political power. These include health care, food and agriculture, water and other natural “resources,” the media and communications, and education.

That these vital goods and functions are increasingly in the hands of corporations is not written in the stars. It’s a recent development, a perverse and destructive situation created through laws and often through violent dispossession. It can change, and will have to. I don’t understand what your argument is when you say “Regarding the fact that Monsanto et al are for-profit companies: Of course they are,” or whether that’s even supposed to be an argument. You seem to be implying that whatever arrangements exist are natural and inevitable and beyond question, or that there are no alternatives. But that’s not so.

You mentioned medicine, which is the area about which I have the most knowledge. Again, the corporate control of medicine is a very recent development. Here’s some of what the corporate drugmakers do:

• Corrupt the research process in any number of ways • Control the dissemination of scientific research by suppressing or selectively releasing results • Corrupt journal publishing • Corrupt doctors, medical education, and the field of medical ethics, turning health professionals into salespeople and corporate propagandists • Lie about scientific results (including to government agencies), including about harms to human health and effects on children • Encourage the (often off-label) use of drugs on vulnerable populations • Corrupt government agencies to do their bidding • Impose secrecy and fight efforts to make research/data publicly available • Shape IP and other laws (national laws and international treaties) in their favor • Use these laws, and deceit, in the service of biopiracy • Patent living entities and body parts • Attempt to dilute or eliminate protections for research subjects • Use vulnerable populations of humans (and nonhuman animals) harmfully in research and fight legal compensation efforts • Control the work of university researchers and threaten them when they rebel • Corrupt the mission of universities by twisting it to corporate ends • Co-opt publicly-funded research for their own profit • Corrupt media coverage of health and medicine • Invent diseases and disorders that don’t exist and spend billions in campaigns to convince people that they do • Shape the priorities of research to focus not on the greatest needs but on the most profitable areas • Shape the priorities of health care away from public health measures and towards drug use • Fight to criminalize investigative journalism and the exposure of their practices, and seek to silence and criminalize public protest • Spend billions to extend their patents as long as possible (including through “me-too” and “me-again” drugs) and make access difficult for drugs on which they hold a patent

That’s just a small sample. Some books that provide information: Harriet Washington’s Deadly Monopolies, Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science and Bad Pharma, Robert Whitaker’s Mad in America and Anatomy of an Epidemic, Irving Kirsch’s The Emperor’s New Drugs, Joanna Moncrieff’s The Bitterest Pills, various works by Marcia Angell and Alison Bass, Sonia Shah’s The Body Hunters, Jennifer Washburn’s University, Inc., and many others.

There are also books and films about the corporatization of agriculture (Raj Patel’s Stuffed and Starved, for example) and water (Blue Gold, for example) and the general film The Corporation. Both Blue Gold and The Corporation can be watched for free on YouTube.

As I said, the corporatization of these areas isn’t an inevitable fact of life. It’s come about recently through the efforts of powerful people and organizations, at a tremendous cost. Part of that cost has been in lost opportunities. There are real alternatives, and the existing system is not only seen as bizarre and unacceptable to many people today but would be unimaginable to the vast majority of humans who’ve lived. Medicine and public health can and should be understood as public goods, subject to democratic control and built around real needs rather than sales, profits, shareholder values, and corporate power.

* I’m not going to talk about eating animals here, and I don’t recall what the report says about it, though it needs to stop not only out of moral consideration for the animals (reason enough) but also because a sustainable food system virtually requires it.


  1. ildi says

    * I’m not going to talk about eating animals here, and I don’t recall what the report says about it, though it needs to stop not only out of moral consideration for the animals (reason enough) but also because a sustainable food system virtually requires it.

    You just did.

  2. says

    Thanks, Ophelia! I’m flattered.

    You just did.

    Well, one footnoted sentence in a long post. I didn’t discuss any specifics. But it was necessary to mention in this context because no discussion of ending hunger sustainably can ignore it.

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